By Elizabeth Ford –
Shades of green with hints of orange washed over downtown Toronto on Sunday March 19 as thousands gathered for the 34th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Led by Grand Marshal Jack Armstrong, the parade kicked off at noon at St. George and Bloor Streets, travelling east to Yonge Street, then south to its final destination at Nathan Phillips Square. Marching bands carried the flags of Ireland and Canada, while children aboard colourful floats played traditional Irish music.
Armstrong, the son of Irish immigrants, called it a “personal honour” to head the celebration. The former TSN broadcaster for the Toronto Raptors said he appreciates the sacrifices people make when they come to a new country.
“I’m immensely proud of my Irish heritage,” he said. “After many years working in Toronto, it is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate all things Irish at one of the largest events of the year.”
For 100 years before 1988, local authorities prohibited the procession due to eruptions between Catholic and Protestant Irish immigrants. Toronto now hosts one of the most diverse St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world according to the St. Patrick’s Parade Society, the not-for-profit group responsible for the parade and the Grand Marshal Ball.
Shaun Ruddy, the Parade Society chair, said the march features a variety of community groups, schools and organizations to celebrate the cultural and religious holiday.
Over 5, 000 participants marched in this year’s parade, including the Toronto Fire Service pipe and drum band, the Toronto Police pipe band, the Toronto Gaelic Athletic Association, International Union of Operating Engineers (Local 793) members, traditional Irish dancers, Mexican San Patricios and marching bands from the Philippines, Ukraine and China.
“The parade is not only a celebration of Irish heritage and culture but also a great opportunity to promote the city and its diversity,” Ruddy said. This year the organization also hosted a food drive.
Dressed in a green top hat and shirt, Toronto resident and parade devotee Michael Samuels said the energy from the procession and crowd put him in the mood for celebrating with a pint of green beer.
“The energy is infectious and I’m looking forward to meeting up at the pub afterwards,” he said.
The parade is one of many annual cultural events to receive funds from the city’s Cultural Festival Funding Program. This marks the second year of the program, to which the city recently allocated $2 million. Longstanding major events are eligible for multi-year funding and annual grants up to a $650,000 each.
Now that the funds are secure, parade goers can start thinking about what shade of green to wear next year.