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St. Patrick's Day parades in Toronto, Montreal draw hundreds for annual celebration

Seas of green surged through downtown streets in Montreal and Toronto on Sunday as thousands turned out to mark St. Patrick's Day with a pair of major parades celebrating the occasion and the Irish culture behind it.

While flurries fell on Toronto's downtown core, throngs of people lined the route for the city’s annual parade to take in more than 100 attractions. Aside from Celtic staples like bagpipes, the festivities also included more diverse elements such as Mexican folklore dancers and a Ukrainian marching band. Former Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke served as the event's Grand Marshal.

David O’Keefe and his one-year-old son Noah were among the marchers, representing the Toronto Gaelic Athletic Association which oversees adult and youth football, hurling and camogie in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The football community here is like a second home for newcomers [from Ireland]. It’s where you meet most of your mates and find work,” said O’Keefe, decked out in a green-and-white-striped soccer kit, who immigrated to Toronto from Ireland in 2012.

“(St. Patrick’s Day is) the biggest day of the year. Being an Irishman abroad, it’s extra special marching down the streets of Toronto. ... It’s great for the kids too."

"We’re trying to show this little lad his Irish roots in Toronto,” the 37-year-old said of Noah, who had two mini Irish flags poking out of his hooded jacket.

Sean Traynor, 68, said he’s been attending the event marking the annual celebration of Ireland's patron saint and Irish culture since immigrating to Toronto from Belfast, Ireland, in 1981.

“St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and they’ve been fighting ever since,” Traynor said with a chuckle about the day’s significance. “But mostly it’s an excuse to drink. A big excuse for some people.”

In Montreal, St. Patrick's green penetrated the grey skies as thousands lined De Maisonneuve Boulevard, with the rain holding off until the event wrapped up.

It was the 199th edition of the Montreal parade, which organizers describe as the longest-running such event in Canada. Organized by the United Irish Societies of Montreal, the three-hour event included just under 100 groups and more than 2,500 participants.

Phil Hayden's ancestors hail from Ireland, so he and his relatives came out to celebrate their heritage. But Hayden said the event's diversity is nice to see.

"It's a gathering of all people, no matter what religion, colour, social beliefs or politics, whatever," said Hayden of Mont-Tremblant, Que. "Everybody is here for the same reason — it's a grand celebration, it's very nice to see all the people, happy faces."

Alex Forrest attended Sunday's event with his two children and granddaughter, who have Irish ancestry through their mother. They were getting the family tradition going again this year.

"Since COVID, it's been a minute, but we're happy to get back to it and we're enjoying ourselves today," Forrest said of the popular event.

"Everybody looks forward to going, whether you're Irish or you're not, it's a celebration because it's a part of Quebec and it's as simple as that."

While the St. Patrick's Day holiday falls on March 17, major celebrations in many locales shifted to other days this year.

The United States' largest St. Patrick's Day parades, including one in New York City, took place on Saturday. The march through Manhattan dates to 1762 and is one of the world’s largest Irish heritage festivities.

In Canada, meanwhile, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador will mark the occasion on Monday with a public holiday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2024.

Sidhartha Banerjee and Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press