Ottawa’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, a tradition dating back almost four decades, was cancelled last month for the third year in row following concerns about the future of the signature annual event of the Irish Society of the National Capital Region.
The 2021 and 2022 parades were cancelled because of the pandemic. But this year, the parade — scheduled for March 11 — was called off, says Sean Kealey, president of the Irish Society, because of a lack of volunteers and funding.
In Toronto and Montreal, St. Patrick’s Day parades are funded by the city. But Ottawa’s parade has traditionally been supported by donations and sponsorships from local businesses.
“We always have strong support from the Irish community, but it’s outside the community that we didn’t get much support from,” said society vice-president Tracey Dixon, who is also Kealey’s sister.
While Kealey and Dixon are optimistic that the parade will return in 2024, they say they’ll need more help from outside the Irish community in Ottawa if they are going to generate adequate funding and enough volunteers.
“I think people aren’t aware of what is involved in organizing a parade in this city. It’s not organized by the city, although they do assist us,” said Dixon. “Volunteers, everything is done by the organization.”
The municipal government’s support for the parades in Toronto and Montreal means those events do not require as much funding from the business community.
“All that to say, I mean businesses are hurting,” said Kealey. “Prices are going up for everything we need to get to run the parade.”
He said the cancellations mean residents of Ottawa have been deprived of the parade they’ve known for so long.
The recent lack of an annual parade celebrating Irish culture has created a void, said Ottawa resident John Mcgivern, 30.
‘I think people aren’t aware of what is involved in organizing a parade in this city.’— Tracey Dixon, vice-president, Irish Society of the National Capital
“My family is very proud of our Irish roots. So as long as I can remember we have been going to the parade,” said Mcgivern. “So I was really disappointed when I heard this year’s parade was cancelled. I am really hoping they can pull through next year.”
The future of the parade, say the society’s leaders, will depend on generating more interest from the community.
“We need people to come out and support us,” said Dixon. “We do this parade for the community and we hope they support us by being volunteers, and blocking the streets off. There is a number of positions available for volunteers and for sponsorships as well.”
Dixon noted that past parades have brought as many as 15,000 people downtown to line the route, a significant benefit for businesses in the core.
Kealey said he’s still optimistic about future parades based on the reaction from many local people after this year’s cancellation was announced.
‘My family is very proud of our Irish roots. So as long as I can remember we have been going to the parade. So I was really disappointed when I heard this year’s parade was cancelled. I am really hoping they can pull through next year and make it happen.’— John Mcgivern, Ottawa resident with Irish roots
“The support we have gotten since we cancelled has been quite good,” he said. “So I think everybody is going to back us for next year — where they may have been a little bit complacent this year.”
Kealey said organizing the parade requires more than 200 volunteers.