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The History of St. Patrick’s Day in Toronto

How Toronto celebrates its Irish heritage

by Justine Jane Taft
TTC entry in the 2009 Toronto St. Patrick’s Day parade Credit: Karen Hayes

Saint Patrick is an Irish saint shrouded in mythology, and is most famously credited with converting Ireland to Christianity. The saint day, March 17, is a holiday celebrated by the Irish Diaspora worldwide to recognize their Irish culture and heritage.

More than four million Canadians come from an Irish heritage. In Toronto, almost 250,000 people claim to come from Irish origins. Throughout its history, Toronto has maintained strong ties to Ireland and the Irish culture.

Irish Heritage and Appreciation Month

March is annually declared “Irish Heritage and Appreciation Month” by the Toronto mayor. The holiday is marked with the Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Annual Grand Marshall’s Ball (held the night before the parade). This year’s parade on March 11 marked the 25th anniversary of the Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Irish Business in Toronto

Toronto also has its own Irish business bureau: The Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce- Toronto. The Toronto chapter is one of six chapters belonging to the Ireland-Canada Chambers of Commerce. The other five chapters are located in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Ireland Park

The Great Famine, which took place in Ireland from 1845 to 1851, caused an influx of Irish immigrants to Canada. In 1847, this influx almost tripled Toronto’s population when the city saw the arrival of 38,000 people to a city with a population of only 20,000. Ireland Park was built to commemorate the famine and Toronto’s Irish heritage. The park officially opened on June 21, 2007 by Mary McAleese, then President of Ireland. The park contains several different pieces, including five bronze sculptures created by Rowan Gillespie. These sculptures are an official continuation of a series of sculptures created by Gillespie in 1997 that reside in Dublin’s Custom House Quay. The park is located at 5 Eireann Quay, at the southeast end of Bathurst St. and Queen’s Quay West. The city named this area “Eireann Quay” in honour of Toronto’s Irish heritage.

Toronto offers a wide range of holiday events, with many pubs hosting live bands on the 17th, and many organizations playing host to a St. Patrick’s Day céilí (definition below). Whether you come from an Irish background or not, Toronto is a great place to celebrate not only Saint Patrick and Ireland, but the Irish-Canadian Diaspora.

Did you know?

A céilí (pronounced kay-lee, also spelled ceilidh) is an evening of Irish dancing and music. The dancing done at a céilí resembles square dancing in that there is a caller and it is easy to learn. Visit www.set-dance.ca to find a céilí near you!

One Comment

  • Allen B

    What a change! At one time in order for someone to be a councilor or mayor of Toronto he had to belong to the Orange Order. The July 12 Orange Day Parade was more important and thousands of people would line the route. Southern Ontario and especially Toronto was settled by many Scot-Irish from Ulster. Their dour religiousness gave the city its nickname of ‘Toronto the Good’ and Ontario its legacy of morality laws.

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