St. Patrick's Day In Canada
Canadians may proudly wave a red and white flag, but around March 17th, Irish expats and wannabe Celts all over Canada will ‘go green’ for St Patrick’s Day. Of course, this ‘feast day’ honoring Ireland’s patron Saint, has been a religious holiday on the Emerald Isle since the seventeenth-century. But with Irish expats all over the world and a cherished Celtic heritage taken root worldwide, cities from Milwaukee to Moscow have adopted the festivities and created their own celebrations of all things Irish.
Forget hopping on a plane to Dublin; it’s the American and Canadian revelers that have really taken having a ‘good craic’ to heart. The first St Patrick’s Day parade was actually in New York in 1762 and, despite its fiercely French heritage, Montreal has the longest continually running Saint Patrick's Day parade in North America from 1824.
This means that ‘St Patty’s Day’ is a great time to visit Canada, with parties and parades planned in all the major cities. As well as a festive atmosphere in the Irish pubs, the cold winters on the east coast are at an end, and the weather on the west coast is mild and spring-like.
A Bargain Break
St Patrick’s Day is also ideal for budget travelers, as most of the events are free; leaving you with more money to spend on a pint of Guinness! For low-cost accommodation, many of the hostels in Canada are located slap bang in the city center, close to all the main events. Pick a hip ‘boutique’ hostel in downtown Toronto, or a quaint bed-and-breakfast in Montreal, for a room with far more charisma than a faceless hotel chain. To help plan your Paddy’s Day jaunt, here’s a guide to the biggest Celtic celebrations in Canada.
Toronto goes all out for St Patrick’s Day - the festival in Toronto is in its 22nd year and the Sunday Parade is one of the largest in the world. The parade begins at noon and a procession of Irish dancers, Pipe and Drum bands and a host of costumed performers weave through the city.
They may not have the ‘luck of the Irish’ but the city’s hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, play in green uniforms for the occasion.
For a parade after-party, refuel in one of the city’s authentic Irish pubs, where the only ‘pint’ you’ll be served is a Guinness. Many of the Toronto hostels are in stumbling distance of the rowdiest; The Fiddler’s Green is just off the bustling Yonge Street strip on the outskirts of Toronto’s gay village, and has an outdoor patio for people-watching. The Foggy Dew over in trendy King West Village is a local’s favorite for Paddy’s Day, with a raucous party, live music and dancing that goes on well into the night. Luckily the kitchen serves hearty Irish fare, from Irish stew to soda bread to keep you going until the early hours!
This is where the St Patrick’s Day party really started in Canada, with celebrations dating back to 1759, following the British conquest of New France. The 185th parade happens a week later than most other festivities, but promises to be an action-packed affair, heading through the commercial downtown district. Approximately 40% of Quebecers can claim Irish heritage and with the turnout at the parade, visitors to Montreal may well think that the whole town has gone green. Look out for the replica of St Patrick at the start of the parade, and the Carnival Queen at the rear, as well as costumed Irish dancers and men dressed as Shamrocks!
Once you’ve seen the parade, head away from the modernized downtown area and discover the oldest part of the city, Old Montreal. Founded in 1642, the quarter was recently renovated after years in a derelict state. Wander through cobble-stoned streets lined with gas lamps to discover interesting shops, chic cafés and art galleries.
Vancouver’s ‘CelticFest’ may only be five years old, but it’s the biggest celebration in western Canada; the city is expecting over 70,000 people to watch the downtown parade this year. More than 2,000 people marched in the Parade, with anyone from stilt-walkers, Celtic warriors and Irish wolfhounds joining in!But the five-day festival is what really draws the crowds, showcasing the best of Celtic music, dance, film, literature and food at Vancouver’s Market Stage. Most of the performances and events are free, leaving you with more money to spend at the ‘Celtic Village’, a market selling traditional Irish crafts and produce. This is a Paddy’s Day beyond the pub; hands-on and family-friendly events are scheduled, with face-painting, Irish Fiddlers, Irish storytelling, and a medieval sword-fighting demonstration!
If you can’t quite envisage March 17th without a pint, the annual Scotch Tasting Event, ‘A Whiskey Kiss’ is a chance to sample the finest Irish Whiskies at the Morrissey Irish House. For more cultured pursuits, Vancouver has its own version of Dublin’s literary pub-crawl, the ‘Battle of the Bards’. This tour of Granville’s Irish Pubs celebrates the greatest Irish and Scottish poets with a ‘poetry slam’, and is sure to get the creative juices flowing.
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