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Montreal St. Patrick's Day parade is back, 2 years after being cancelled over COVID

MONTREAL — Downtown Montreal was awash in green Sunday as the city's St. Patrick's Day parade returned following two years of pandemic-induced cancellations.
Members of the crowd cheer as the watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Montreal, Sunday, March 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Downtown Montreal was awash in green Sunday as the city's St. Patrick's Day parade returned following two years of pandemic-induced cancellations. 

Kilted bagpipe players, dancers and a small crowd embraced the rain and cold weather to enjoy the scaled-back 197th edition of the parade — one of several across Canada over the weekend.

Among the participants in Montreal was Chantal Shirley Arcand of Laval, Que., who woke up at 6 a.m. to get ready for the event and meticulously choose every green piece from her wardrobe — including green lipstick.

"Shamrocks on my head, on my socks, on my thighs, everything has shamrocks on it," Shirley Arcand said in an interview Sunday. "Neck, shirt, feet; I'm all in green!" 

Referring to the parade as a tradition, Shirley Arcand said she had been disappointed in the last years to see the streets empty for St. Patrick's Day. 

The March celebration of Irish culture was among the first events to be cancelled in 2020 and then again in 2021 due to the pandemic. But as COVID-19 protocols are being lifted across Canada, the event was reintroduced this year with fewer participants. 

The United Irish Societies of Montreal, which have organized the event since 1929, kicked off festivities around 9:30 a.m. instead of the afternoon like in previous years. 

Kevin Tracey, spokesman for the United Irish Societies of Montreal, said in an interview they had to juggle different approaches over three months before receiving the city's official go-ahead for the parade. 

"We were doing everything we could to be accepted by the public health authorities; starting earlier so we figured less people would be going out to make an entire day out of it, more family-oriented, that type of thing," Tracey said Sunday. 

"Even if they said we could put 4,000 people, we wouldn’t have time. A lot of people are coming out of town, you can’t just change these things overnight." 

The walking parade of dancers and marching bands — which was officially announced three weeks ago — saw 500 people on Sunday instead of the usual thousands of participants. The colourful and dynamic floats were also nowhere to be seen as the parade made its way across the city's downtown. 

"It’s kind of a sense of relief that we finally got something back, no restrictions," Tracey said. "We had way bigger crowds than this, but still, it was fun. I’m surprised that many people came out."

Eddy Picard, one of the parade's attendees, said the change of pace didn't discourage him from waking up early to put on his costume and dye his beard with green paint. 

"We usually stop for breakfast before I have a liquid breakfast," Picard said on Sunday. "No chance, it was too early … usually it lasts two, two and half hours … I'm only on my second beer!" 

Montreal resident Cherine McCrory echoed Picard's comments, adding that it was an opportunity for her group of friends and herself to celebrate their heritage. 

"We come every year since 1987," McCrory, who is of Irish descent, said in an interview. "And because we haven't been in the last two years, we were really coming, no matter what time it was." 

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante was also among the participants, leading the parade. 

"We are celebrating the Irish communities of Montreal today with the much-anticipated return of the traditional parade," Plante said on Twitter Sunday. 

Montreal police said the parade ended peacefully and required no interventions. 

Meanwhile, police in Kingston, Ont., said they were investigating an incident in which one of their officers was struck in the head by a drink container at that city's St. Patrick’s Day event on Saturday.

Police said the officer was taken to the hospital for a head injury after being attacked around 2:15 p.m., close to Queen's University. No arrest has been made. 

Toronto's St. Patrick's Day parade returned Sunday as well. Several marching bands wound their way through city streets lined by onlookers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 20, 2022. 

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press