Every year, St. Patrick’s Day is a time of celebration and pride for both Irish Canadians and anyone who enjoys stout beer. This momentous occasion has been celebrated in Canada since 1759, when the one of the first St. Patrick’s Day parades in North America was held in Montreal by Irish soldiers shortly after the British conquest. 

The parade quickly became an annual event in Montreal, and spread throughout the rest of the country over the intervening years as more and more Irish immigrants arrived in Canada. The country saw a huge increase in its Irish population in the 1840s as hundreds of thousands fled the devastation of the Great Famine to settle in Ontario, then known as Upper Canada. 

However, the poor conditions on the ships that bore them led to a terrible typhus epidemic that resulted in thousands of deaths. Quarantine stations were established across the eastern coast of Canada, the most famous of which was Grosse Isle. Located at the Gulf of the St. Lawrence by Quebec City, thousands of Irish immigrants were ushered from their ships and put in crowded tent hospitals and sheds. Over 3,000 died on Grosse Isle alone, not counting the many more who perished during the passage along the Atlantic aboard crowded Coffin Ships.” 

However, the suffering of the newly landed Irish community in Canada did not end there. They faced a great amount of discrimination from the majority English-Protestant community and anti-Irish riots were a fact of life in many communities, culminating in the Jubilee Riots of 1875. By 1878, the violence had gotten so bad that the city of Toronto outlawed St. Patrick’s Day celebrations entirely. They weren’t reinstated until over a century later in 1988

Under these conditions, St. Patrick’s Day itself became a way for the fledgling Irish Canadian community to affirm their national pride and celebrate their successes, even in the face of so many hardships. Today, St. Patrick’s Day in Canada stands as a beloved public holiday where Canadians of all stripes and can gather in kinship and celebrate. 

Toronto St Pats

Fun Facts about St. Patrick’s Day in Canada

  • The first St. Patrick’s Day in Montreal in 1759 actually predates New York’s first celebration, widely regarded as the first in America, by three years.
  • The Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade was held for 196 years consecutively between 1824 – 2020.
  • In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield celebrated the occasion with a rendition of Irish folk ballad Danny Boy recorded from space. 
  • On March 18, 1985 – the day after St. Patrick’s Day – Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and American President Ronald Reagan met for the so-called Shamrock Summit” in Quebec City. Memorably, the two world leaders, both of Irish descent, sang When Irish Eyes are Smiling along with their spouses. 
  • Prior to 1927, the Toronto Maple Leafs were known as the Toronto St. Patricks and wore green-and-white jerseys.

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