“If they can dye the river green on St. Patrick’s Day, why can’t they dye it blue the rest of the year?” The Fugitive. 1993
This past Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day and although our rivers weren’t green, the city had a parade. Apparently it was the first time for us. I should clarify that it was just the first time that our city had an official St. Patrick’s Day parade, but not the first time the Irish marched here. You get enough Irish together and it won’t be too long before they want to march somewhere. It’s just in our DNA. I remember being in Northern Ireland in 1996 in July during the “marching season” as they call it over there and I naively asked what all the fuss was about. The Orangemen wanted to hold their annual march on their usual parade route but were meeting with resistant from certain Catholic neighbourhoods in Portadown and Drumcree. At this point, the parade routes were being changed and the Orangemen were out in the streets and the country roads erected ad hoc roadblocks and checkpoints disrupting traffic in protest. Add to this the local Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army who were also out in force trying to maintain the peace and you had a country’s transportation system effectively shut down for a week. Needless to say I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing on that trip, but I have incredible memories to make up for it.
“Well, we have to march you know,” was the response from my Dad’s cousin George, who was the most militant one in the family. It was like he was explaining why fish need to swim or something. I think he must have thought his cousin’s kid was a bit simple. Most of my relatives tried to stay out of “The Troubles” as much as possible. They were farmers and political instability wasn’t good for business, bottom line. George was different. He worked his whole life in a plastics factory but on evenings and weekends he would sing in the church choir and attend meetings of his local Loyal Orange Lodge and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), a kind of a protestant equivalent of the IRA. (I know I’m simplifying things here, so my apologies to anyone reading this who is going “What the hell?”) I haven’t forgotten the motto, “If you think you know what’s going on here, you’ve been poorly briefed“. George had the best stories, and I loved singing next to him in church.
The Irish, when they arrived in Canada, brought most of their traditions, good and bad, with them. It wasn’t long before Orange Lodges were popping up all over the Prairies. This book review of “The Sash Canada Wore” gives a bit more information on the origins of the Orange Order on the Prairies, and this site has a nice little background on the first Orange lodge in Manitoba. Incidentally, am I the only one who loves the fact that “Loyal Orange Lodge” abbreviates to “LOL”?
Just as April showers bring May flowers, Orange lodges breed parades, and many small communities throughout the prairies would host a parade on July 12. The men would march and the women would make sandwiches for a picnic at the end of the parade, just like back home! My grandpa was a member of one these lodges and he would march too, although from the stories I’ve heard about him, he was probably more interested in the sandwiches than in the marching. By the 1960’s, most of these lodges died out and even the famous “Scott Memorial Lodge” on Princess St. is now abandoned.
So that brings us up to date. Never a “St. Patrick’s Day” parade, but many an Irish parade in this city’s past. My daughter and I made our way down to the legislature to see what was up. The fact that it was a Saturday and such nice weather must have helped with the numbers, because hundreds of people showed up wearing their green for the event. The floats, (or more accurately, the float), was a papier-mache leprechaun. I was happy to see there were no political messaging or anyone obvious axes being grinded. It was just a bunch of people happy to be out and about celebrating their Irishness. It was like we were Puerto Rican or something. (Is that racist? I apologize. We were nothing like Puerto Ricans). I bumped into one guy from work and spotted a number of people I recognized as “citizens” of the city. You know the type, right? You may not know their names, but you see them around town all the time. Particularly, there is this one guy who we see everywhere. He is this bike courier or something but he’s an older guy with long stringy hair and you’ll never see him without his tiny jean cutoff shorts. Maybe he’s a never-nude, come to think of it. The best description of this guy that I can come up with is a “dandy Keith Richards”. I snapped a picture of him to show my wife when we got home.
“Look who was at the parade!” I exclaimed as she went through the pictures on the camera.
“Well, well.” she said icily. “Look who it is.”
A strange response, yes? Well, as it turns out she thought I took a picture of my former girlfriend, Margaret Bryans.
“What? What are you talking about?” I took the camera and sure enough there was the picture of dandy Keith, but standing next to him was a woman who may or may not have been my ex-girlfriend, Margaret. I didn’t even notice this at the time, and with the wig and sunglasses, it was impossible to tell for sure. I think it’s doubtful. She’s not even Irish, and she just recently had a baby so I don’t know if she would be out on the parade route. She did, however, enjoy participating in marches and protests when I dated her, and after we broke up she discovered she was a lesbian so having campy sunglasses, hats and wigs around the house is not a stretch. (Well, she did.) Could this be how Abraham Zapruder felt when he got his film back from the developers?
There were no pipes, no lambegs, and aside from the one papier-mache leprechaun, no real floats of which to speak. This didn’t seem to matter to the crowd. My daughter was handed a green coin with a shamrock on one side and the saying “Get Lucky!” on the other. A bit rude for a 3-year-old, but she didn’t let that coin leave her hot little hands for the rest of the morning. Everyone appearerd to be in good spirits and the only orange in sight was on one-third of the Irish flag. I’d say it was a success, and I was sort of proud to be Irish that day.
As unlikely as it was that an Irish parade could hold no political overtones, or that I possibly unwittingly snapped a picture of my lesbian ex-girlfriend, it was even unlikelier that I would be able to meet up with a couple of friends for lunch after the parade even though I do not own a cell phone. AND YET ALL OF THESE THINGS HAPPENED LAST SATURDAY. I guess sometimes you just get lucky.