Sunday, March 16, 2008


Montreal is the site of the oldest St. Patrick's Day parade in Canada. Celebrations date back as far as 1759, when the day was commemorated by Irish soldiers in the Montreal garrison after the conquest. The first actual parade was organized on March 17, 1824 by Michael O'Sullivan, a member of the Parliament of Lower Canada. In 1834 the St. Patrick's Society of Montreal was founded, and they were the organizers of the parade until 1892.

In 1847 St. Patrick's Basilica was completed, and this church became the end-point for the annual parade. In the 1860s there was considerable opposition to the parade on the part of "right thinking" Empire loyalists (and the Orange Order of course) because of the Fenian raids from the USA. It was in this climate that D'Arcy McGee was assassinated on April 7, 1868. During this time the parade was kept alive by the tireless efforts of Father Dowd of St. Patrick's Basilica. He died in December of 1891, and the 1892 parade was devoted to his memory.

From 1893 to 1917 the parade was organized by the Ancient Order of Hiberians. No downtown parade was held in 1918, to avoid clashes with military conscription agents active in Montreal .This was the year when major anti-conscription riots took place in Quebec City, and the Irish were even more vehemently opposed to conscription than French Canadians were. The military agents were too frightened to enter the Irish section of Montreal, Griffentown, and an alternative parade was held in that neighbourhood, sponsored by Ste. Anne's Parish, and the Ancient Order of Hiberians.

In 1928 the United Irish Societies of Montreal was founded to continue the parade tradition. They held their first parade in 1929, and their efforts continue to this day. The history of the parade has sometimes been bumpy since then. During the Depression the parade became an exclusively marching affair as floats were cancelled to save money. In 1942 15 parish priests petitioned the UIS to cancel the parade for the duration of the war. this petition was refused, and the parades continued. In 1949 the President of the UIS cancelled the parade because of inclement weather. Military units and parish organizations who were participating, however, stated that they would march irregardless. As the parade went ahead the officials scrambled to join up in this unofficial parade.

In 1956 the custom of a Queen and princesses was added to the day. In 1963 the first 'Green Line' was painted down the centre of Ste. Catherine's Street, and this is the custom today. In 2002 the first female Chief Reviewing Officer of the parade, Mabel Ann Fitzgerald, was appointed. The first female Grand Marshall, Margaret Healy, held the post in 2005. Her father, Thomas P. Healy, had held the post in 1943.

This year the parade is being held today, Sunday, March 16, rather than tomorrow on the real day. The photographs above are from last year's parade. To learn more about the Montreal parade go to the website of the United Irish Societies of Montreal.

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