Sydney the goose and Eclipse the duck, both now sheltered at the Montreal SPCA, won’t be waddling in this year’s St. Patrick’s Parade. By noon, Sunday, March 20, when the parade begins, they will be well on their way to a sanctuary to lead a life of leisure.
But other animals that have found a safe haven at the shelter and subsequently a “forever home” will march alongside their very own people, as the SPCA once again joins the parade.
“Our theme this year is ‘Superheroes’, referring to those who have adopted an animal from the SPCA,” says spokesperson Anita Kapuscinska. “The Parade is an opportunity to raise awareness. We sometimes see animals in horrific situations, a lot of sadness happens.”
Of the 15,000 animals the shelter takes in every year, most are ordinary pets their owners could no longer keep, she says. The animals spectators will see in the parade are the successful adoptees, “the happy endings.”
The Montreal St. Patrick’s Parade is the oldest in Canada, held every year since 1824 and, for the 87th year, organized by the United Irish Societies of Montreal. Neither rain, nor sleet or snow has so far prevented the parade from happening, always on a Sunday, with its marching bands, floats, bagpipers and thousands of green-garbed revelers.
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On this day, the saying goes, “Everyone is Irish.”
For devout Catholics, the day marks the dawning of Christianity in Ireland, commemorating their patron Saint. Born in Scotland or Wales in 387, Padraig, or Patrick, was kidnapped by a band of roving raiders and sold as a slave in Antrim, in the north of Ireland. Six years later he escaped as a stowaway on a ship bound for Gaul, or France. He returned to his home and became a monk, but went back to Ireland 14 years later, building churches and sanctuaries.
He converted thousands of people. Legend says he also expelled snakes from Ireland, but according to National Geographic, there probably never were any, as the weather would not allow them to survive.
For the Irish community March 17, the day of the saint’s death, is also a celebration of Irish culture, with foods like colcannon and Irish coffee. About 40 per cent of Quebecers have some Irish heritage, as the Irish have deep roots in Canada. The founder of Manitoba, Louis Riel, studied in Montreal. His grandfather, Jack Reilly, landed in Boucherville in 1704 and changed his name to Jean-Baptiste Riel.
Many celebrants will wear a shamrock, which has come to symbolize Irish culture, and many more will “drown the shamrock” during the festivities with the signature green beer. For Montrealers, St. Patrick’s Day is a promise—a reminder that spring will come, just when even the heartiest among us has had enough of our seemingly endless winter.