One of the city's most anticipated spring events, the Montreal St. Patrick's Day Parade (also known as Défilé de la Saint Patrick) celebrates the rich Irish heritage of North America. Each year, thousands of participants march down Rue Ste. Catherine to Phillips Square. Parade-goers can expect the jovial and animated event to last two to three hours, not including the special events held both before and after the parade itself. And it's never too early to plan your trip to the big event. Upwards of 500,000 attendees descend on Montreal to celebrate with the city, so you'll want to be on it.
The History of Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade
The Montreal St. Patrick's Day Parade is the oldest St. Patrick's Day parade in Canada, held every year since 1824. No circumstance—from a snowstorm to wartime to economic depression—has stopped the event from marching on. In fact, historian Don Pidgeon claims that Montreal has been celebrating this Irish holiday since 1759 (the year of the Conquest of Canada), just not in a parade format.
It is a widespread myth that Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade is the longest-running of its kind in North America. The title of "The Longest-Running, Uninterrupted, North American St. Patrick's Day Parade"—which boasts over 250 consecutive annual runs since 1762—actually belongs to New York City (according to organizers, National Geographic, and The New York Times). Meanwhile, Boston claims to have established the very first St. Patrick's Day parade in North America, an event that started decades earlier in 1737.
The Route of Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade
Historically, the parade wasn't held in the vicinity of Phillips Square. Instead, the celebration on March 17 (or whatever Sunday was closest to the day Ireland's patron saint was honored), proceeded along Rue Notre-Dame in Old Montreal, only blocks away from the community's historical home turf in Griffintown. Then, for years, the festivities started on the corner of Rue Du Fort and Rue Ste. Catherine, proceeding along Rue Ste. Catherine until it reached Phillips Square. But due to construction in 2018, the parade route was diverted to Boulevard De Maisonneuve (with a start near Place des Arts), turned onto Rue MacKay, and ended along Boulevard Rene-Levesque.
Construction may now be over and the old route may resume, so it's best to check this year's schedule before lining up to assure the best viewing spot.
Events Surrounding Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade
Several Irish pubs in the downtown area serve breakfast and Irish coffee prior to the parade. So, if you're lining up early, first, pull up a table and enjoy a traditional meal to start your day of festivities. Those who booked a hotel along the parade route, however, can revel in a more leisurely schedule, since the best views will be from the window in their room
After the parade, head back to an Irish pub for traditional music, drinks, and bar food. But, keep in mind that the bars fill up fast and can be packed post-parade. If you'd rather avoid the crowds, visit one of the traditional Irish bars on Saturday or earlier in the day instead.
There are also a number of street festivals, performances, and community events scheduled after the parade. Or, stick around until the end of the parade to watch or help participants dismantle their floats.