Community activists, supporters of the working class and anti-establishment firebrands took to streets across Canada on Tuesday to mark International Workers' Day.

Activist groups in Toronto had urged residents to call in sick to work and join May Day protests, to demand respect for minority groups, urge for improvements to public services and protest corporate handouts.

The largest May Day gathering in Toronto caused delays and traffic jams on city roads as about 500 people gathered at City Hall at 4 p.m. and then started moving west along Queen Street, shortly after 5 p.m.

Marchers made their way along Queen Street to Spadina Avenue where they staged a sit-in, blocking traffic at the busy downtown intersection.

The rally marched up Spadina Avenue and gathered in Alexandra Park, at Bathurst Street and Dundas Street West, for a couple hours, before moving south along Bathurst and then east on Queen Street shortly after 9 p.m.

They eventually ended up in Simcoe Park on Front Street, near the financial district. A bylaw in the park does not allow camping between the hours of 12 a.m. and 5 a.m.

A press release issued by Occupy Toronto said the group was going to set up camp in the city's financial district and would occupy that space for 24 hours.

"Demonstrators plan to occupy the site for 24 hours and transform it into a space for education, conversation, and protest," the release read. "They will set up info booths, political film screenings, a free school, a kitchen and sleeping areas, including a women's safe space."

But just before midnight, police were preventing activists from setting up tents, and there were a handful of arrests.

The release also said the protesters would demonstrate outside shareholder meetings for companies Barrick Gold and New Gold, which were scheduled for Wednesday.

The protest was mainly peaceful through the afternoon, even as dozens of police on bicycles rode alongside the marchers.

The marchers included students, labour groups and people who were involved in Occupy protests in the city last fall.

"We are responding to calls from across North America to have a May Day rally. It is important because May Day is celebrated around the world but it isn't celebrated here," Lana Goldberg, a member of the Occupy Toronto movement, told CTV News Channel earlier in the day.

"We want to celebrate in solidarity with workers around the world for worker struggles and also for immigrant struggles."

Besides the march, other events held in Toronto included a potluck garden party outside Queen's Park at 2 p.m.

Occupy Toronto also plans a 24-hour occupation at a yet-to-be-announced location referred to as the "Heart of the Beast."

A number of groups gathered outside Harper's office around the noon hour to voice their opposition to cuts to the federal public service and other austerity measures.

CTV News Channel's Mercedes Stephenson tweeted that protesters held up cut-outs of federal cabinet ministers wearing T-shirts with critical messages.

May Day protests in other cities include:

  • Halifax, where the Halifax Dartmouth & District Labour Council has organized MayworksHalifax 2012, which includes a rally at the Grand Parade.
  • Montreal, where a day-long series of marches and protests is scheduled, including a student demonstration outside the office of Premier Jean Charest.
  • Winnipeg, where the Public Service Alliance of Canada has organized an evening rally at city hall, followed by a march to Old Market Square.
  • Edmonton, where an evening march through downtown is scheduled.
  • Calgary, where a rally and potluck dinner are scheduled at 10 Street and Memorial Drive NW.
  • Vancouver, where the Occupy Vancouver movement has joined forces with the BC Federation of Labour and the Vancouver & District Labour Council for a rally and march outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.