With its side streets not yet cut off to traffic and sidewalks still empty, Ste-Catherine St. was quiet when two old friends reserved their spots at the corner of Peel St. on Sunday, getting ready for Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“We always like to get here early,” said Michel Miron, 55, a good two hours before the parade started.
“We come every year,” added Raymond St-Jacques, 67, whose mother has Irish roots on her side of the family. “It gets better every time.”
As others started joining them along the parade’s main route, a staging and rehearsal area bustled with activity a few blocks away on René-Lévesque Blvd., where last- minute tweaks were performed on floats and marchers took their place in line.
With a leprechaun button pinned to his woollen flat cap, Normand Bellemare, 69, strolled along the boulevard, watching marchers ready their green sashes and musicians fine-tune their instruments.
At his age, he said, the large crowd that gathers for the parade has become a little too much for him. But he still likes seeing the floats and marching bands, so he watches the final preparations instead of the actual parade.
“It brings back memories” of his Irish grandparents, he said, who moved to Quebec from Massachusetts long ago.
A little after noon, marching bands, local businesses, sports clubs and Irish societies were heading down Ste-Catherine St. from Fort St. to Phillip’s Square. Both sidewalks had filled with families and others, many dressed in green, and a party-like atmosphere had overtaken the side streets, where revellers spilled out of Irish pubs.
Roberta Deegan, 74, watched as her family marched in the parade, representing the Ancient Order of Hibernians, one of the oldest Irish organizations to take part.
Deegan figures she has been to at least 60 editions of the parade — “I can’t count them!” — starting back when it was mostly local parishes that participated.
“It’s amazing. There are so many people wearing green,” she said. “I’m sure they’re not all Irish, but I still think it’s fantastic.”
Marching near the front end of the parade were the Flying Ducks, a youth ice-hockey team that flew in from Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day for a 10-day stay.
Without a permanent ice rink in the republic of Ireland, when not using a small, temporary pop-up rink to practise, the team relies on two-hour drives to Belfast to access a rink.
But those late-night and early morning drives were far from Debbie Murphy’s mind on Sunday. Standing near McGill College Ave. in a Flying Ducks jersey, she was filled with pride as her two children, Mark and Lucy, marched in the parade with the rest of the team.
It has been non-stop hockey since flying in from Dublin on Friday, Murphy said, but the kids wouldn’t have it any other way.
And as for watching them in the parade, she added, “it just doesn’t get any better than this.”