History of The Saint-Patrick's Parade in Montreal
The Saint-Patrick's Day parade in Montreal has historically been carefully used by various constituent elements of the Irish community of Montreal to convey certain messages, usually connected to events in Ireland. In the 19th and early 20th centuries messages such as nationalism, class issues and religious domination were conveyed by these factions. Symbols and logos were used to endorse nationalism. Class issues separated the elite from the working class by marching order and dress code which visually promoted the message of nationalism, class and religious issues. There were also manifestations of power struggles over use of city streets and public places. Public places like taverns were used for political domination. These messages were conveyed through the parade.
In 1824, Montreal held its first Saint-Patrick's Day. This parade was a bourgeois event, running from Saint-Patrick's Hall on Place D'Armes, through Little Dublin, back to Place D'Armes. The people associated with the first parades were well dressed and well behaved. This group of people associated with organizing the first Saint-Patrick parades later formed the Saint-Patrick's Society in 1834. The first parades were ecumenical in nature which included Catholics and Protestants. The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which was formed in 1842, also took part in the parade along with the Scots from Saint- Andrew's Society and the English from Saint-George's Society. Marching bands were provided by the French and the parades were of an amicable nature. In 1848 The Quebec Mercury reported that at least 2,500 persons were assembled and marched.
However, in 1848 an organization called the Friendly Sons of Saint-Patrick was formed and they rivaled against the Saint-Patrick's Society. This was the first hint of problems that the Saint-Patrick's Society would face in the coming future of the organization. Both vied against each other for precedence over the parade. Finally, by 1849 the Friendly Sons of Saint-Patrick joined forces with the Saint-Patrick's Society and both organizations managed the Saint-Patrick's Parade together. The Friendly Sons of Saint-Patrick along with the Saint-Patrick's society in 1852 produced a demonstration of strong Irish unity and civic importance in a multi-ethnic society.
By 1857 Saint-Patrick's Church was opened and sectarian problems were an issue. The Catholics began to push the Protestants out. This was due to the fact that during this period the famine refugees were landing in Montreal. The Irish immigrants of the 1840s were predominately Catholic and they joined with the local Catholic community. There was a strong sense of religious solidarity. The Saint-Patrick's Society was divided between Catholic and Protestant. The Catholics established themselves with their own communal activities, meeting halls, annual bazaars, army regiments, fire companies and banks. They were becoming independent and did not want the others involved.
In 1856 the Catholics had taken over the Saint-Patrick's Society. The parade consisted of Catholic religious fraternities, school groups, Catholic Total Abstinence societies and the congregation of Saint-Patrick's Catholic Church. No mention was made of representation of other societies such as Saint-Andrew's or Saint-George's. Saint- Patrick's Society which had been non-denomination had become totally Catholic. At an annual dinner the Catholics made their position known. In a political and religious statement a toast was made to the 'health of the Pope' and to the homeland. This was a religious toast not one for Irish nationalism. Thomas McKenna who was the Vice-President of the Saint-Patrick's Society said in a toast; "we proclaim the Ireland must and shall triumph in the cause of justice and of right and that the demon of discord denomination supremacy, will, ere long, be banished forever from the land (Cheers)'.
The Irish Protestants were expelled and told to join their Orange Order or other Protestant Societies. In 1864 Saint-Andrew's, Saint- George's and the Irish Protestant Benevolent Societies established a new society called 'United Protestant Immigrants Home'.
The Home Rule issue in Ireland became the theme of the parade in the 1870s. Banners with 'Home Rule for the land of our forefathers' and 'Ireland and France are true friends' were in the 1875 parade. These banners were displayed on evergreen-covered ceremonial arches. There were also emblems stating loyalty to the Empire. In the display of flags the British ensign was in the center with the Irish flag on either side. The British flag also flew on top of Saint- Patrick's Hall. This was symbolic statement due to the fact that there were rumors saying that the Irish Catholics were supporting a Fenian overthrow of Canada. The British flags were a symbol of their loyalty to Britain and to Home Rule.
About 1899 the AOH - Ancient Order of Hibernians, a reformist militant group, were strong in the Saint-Patrick's Society for about thirty years. They dominated The Saint-Patrick's Day dinner and turned it into a private event. Previously, Saint-Andrew's and Saint-George's along with the community attended this event, but the AOH would only invite people between the ages of eighteen and forty-five healthy and active. This militant group consisted of Hibernian Knights and Hibernian Rifles. They were ready to defend Ireland's right to self government and to use firearms if they had to. The AOH were very impressive when they marched according to the Gazette; "their smart costumes and soldierly bearing brought frequent applause along the line. . . The A.O.H. looked remarkable well in the procession. The men were of uniform stature, dressed in black, and all wore silk hats, which gave them a striking appearance as they marched past.
The AOH wanted to make changes to the Montreal parade but the traditionalists voted them down. They wanted ragtime music instead of the traditional Irish music and by 1907 it was deemed inappropriate as Irish music ought to be played at an Irish festival. Then they sought to change the parade route and their argument was; 'The Irish were not parading for their own but rather to advertise their members and influence and strengths to the other members of the Community.' The traditionalists would not accept the change.
Home Rule was still an issue into the early 20th century. In 1916 the parade was joined by the United Irish League with a banner bearing the emblem of John Redmond. The Young Irelanders wore silk top hats with shamrocks and green carnations in their buttonholes. The theme of the parade was Home Rule in the homeland.
In 1922 was another turning point for the Saint-Patrick's Day parade in Montreal. As described by the Gazette, it was one of the largest seen in Montreal. The reason for the sizeable turnout for this parade could be that in 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and also the fact that the parade was held on a weekend. They symbolized this event with political banners printed in Irish Gaelic and flying the tri-color flags.
By 1929 the AOH relinquished its organization control over the parade and the United Irish Societies of Montreal became the new coordinators which is still in effect today. The Hibernian Knights led the parade and had two floats. A total of approximately 15,000 people marched in this parade. There was representation from twenty-seven units from local churches and Irish societies. The visual representation was seventeen decorated floats. The Irish Protestant Benevolent Society marched in this parade for the first time in thirty years. Because of the new stability in Ireland the sectarian tensions had subsided and the parade was making a come back to what was a more amicable parade of the earlier years.
The Saint-Patrick's Day Parade in Montreal survived through the different factions conveying messages of nationalism, class issues and religious issues. As long as issues remain stable in Ireland the parade will remain an amicable one in Montreal.
Cronin, Mike and Caryl, Adair. The Wearing of the Green; A history of Saint- Partick's Day
Famine and Exodus:
Barlow, Matthew, "The Irish Experience in Montréal,"