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1. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade was banned in Toronto for more than 100 years. Why? Sectarian violence. Here’s a thread about “The Belfast of Canada” and the riots that rocked the city.
2. In the late 1800s, Toronto was a *very* Irish place. By the 1850s, more a third of the people in the city had been born in Ireland. That was a higher percentage than even Boston or New York.
3. Many of them were newcomers driven out of Ireland by the Great Famine. During the summer of 1847, 40,000 Irish refugees came to Toronto — twice the population of the entire city.
4. The vast majority of the new arrivals were Catholic… and they didn’t exactly find themselves welcomed into the city with open arms.
5. Toronto was deeply Protestant. Like, *deeply*. 75% of all Torontonians were Protestants. Many of them were members of the Orange Order. And the Orange Order basically ran the city.
6. The organization was founded in Northern Ireland in the late 1700s—fiercely Protestant and anti-Catholic. Orangemen are still a BIG presence in Belfast to this day; their annual parades frequently descend into riots even today.

(pic: Belfast mural, Pierrette13 on Wikimedia)
7. The Orange Order kept a stranglehold on Toronto politics for a century. From the 1860s–1950s, nearly every Mayor of Toronto was a member of the Orange Order. City councillors, too. And police. And firefighters. Just about all public employees.
8. When all those famine refugees were pouring into the city, there wasn’t a single Catholic who held municipal office in Toronto. For many decades to come, well into the 1900s, Catholics had trouble getting hired for *any* public job in the city.

(pic: @TorontoArchives)
9. Racism against Irish Catholics was a defining feature of life in Toronto. “Irish beggars are to be met everywhere,” the Globe complained, “and they are as ignorant & vicious as they are poor. They are lazy, improvident, & unthankful; they fill our poorhouses & our prisons..."
10. By 1864, the city’s Catholic bishop was actively discouraging Irish Catholics from moving to Toronto — because of the Protestant domination of the city and the terrible discrimination Catholics faced here.
11. And it wasn’t just Toronto. Orange Lodges spread across Canada, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. At one point, there were more Orange Lodges in Canada than there were in all of Northern Ireland.
12. At the time of Confederation, a third of all Protestant men in Canada were in the Orange Order, or had been. Including Sir John A Macdonald. It was said that the federal Conservatives always reserved 3 seats in Cabinet for Orange MPs any time they were in power.
13. Just as in Belfast, the violence in Toronto frequently started with a parade. Every year on the 12th of July, the Orange Order would hold a big march to commemorate the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over Catholics in Ireland in the 1600s.
14. “The Twelfth” was practically an official holiday in Toronto. Municipal employees would even get the day off with pay so they could attend. At its height, thousands of Torontonians would march in the parade. Tens of thousands would cheer them on.

(pic: @TorontoArchives)
15. Catholics would generally stay indoors that day, and keep their children close. But not all of them. The parades would occasionally erupt into violence between Orangemen and Irish Catholics, the battles of Belfast being fought in the streets of Toronto.
16. Big Protestant-Catholic riots became an almost annual occurrence in Toronto: after political meetings and elections, when the Prince of Wales visited, on Guy Fawkes Day... St. Michael’s Cathedral attacked, religious processions attacked, the bishop pelted with stones...
17. When an Irish Fenian revolutionary leader came to town to deliver a lecture, Orangemen rioted for two days, smashed the windows of St. Lawrence Hall, destroyed a Fenian tavern, and trashed stores on Queen Street.
18. When Catholics celebrated the Papal Jubilee, stones rained down on them at Queen & Spadina. Shots had been fired on Simcoe Street before it was all over. Thousands battled in the streets.
19. And on St. Patrick’s Day in 1858, the parade was especially tense: Thomas D’Arcy McGee was in town to attend a banquet. The former Irish revolutionary had moved to Canada; he was now a loyal British subject & would go on to become a Father of Confederation.
20. The violence that erupted around the parade ended with a Catholic stablehand shot dead in the street. And his was certainly not the only life lost to the violence between Protestants and Catholics in Toronto.
21. Heck, Toronto's very first war memorial was dedicated to the memory of the University of Toronto students who died fighting the Irish-Catholic Fenian army that invaded Canada in the 1860s.

(pic: Canadian Volunteer Monument via Wikimedia)
22. And so finally, in the 1870s, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was banned in an attempt to quell the bloody violence that had been rocking Toronto for years. (Although the Orange Day Parade continued on as a major public event. And still exists today.)
23. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the Orange stranglehold was broken. After WWII, Toronto was becoming more and more multicultural. For the first time in 118 years the city elected a mayor who *wasn’t* Protestant: the Jewish Nathan Phillips.

(pic: Paul Rockett, Maclean’s, 1960)
24. And so in the 1980s, after more than 100 yrs, Toronto decided it was finally safe enough for a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, it feels as if the whole city celebrates the holiday—without a hint of the violence that once spilled blood in its streets.

(pics: @torontolibrary)
25. And in Ireland Park on the waterfront, you'll find a striking monument: a reminder of the Irish refugees who came to Toronto all those years ago, and the contribution they and their descendants — Protestants and Catholics alike — have made to our city ever since.
Thanks for reading! If you're interested, I wrote more about the famine refugees as part of The Toronto Book of the Dead (amzn.to/2TQAhOG) and we're going to have a whole episode of the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee on the @thisiscanadiana web series very soon!
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