Pratheesh Nair, Homes First volunteer, shares his experiences of participating in our very first parade together. Read on!
March 19, 2017, Sunday, Toronto:
The slightly chilly yet reluctantly sunny morning of Sunday, the 19th day of March, brought with it some color (read green, lots of green) and merry bagpipe music. For those who do not take a hint, it was the day of the St. Patrick’s Parade – a day of green shamrocks, lots of music, traditional attires, green beer and fancy parade floats.
Staff (Kallan and Helen) invited volunteers to revel in Homes First very first participation in the St. Patrick’s Parade to generate awareness and support for housing the homeless in our city. The day started at the Homes First office at Shuter Street in Downtown Toronto, where volunteers met up with Helen. Helen brought with her a small bundle of energy – Joy, her daughter, to participate in her first-ever parade. More on her later. There were quite a few other first-timers, yours truly included, who have never been in a parade let alone the St. Patrick’s. I was brimming with excitement, as this was my opportunity to experience St. Patrick’s festivities up-close. Being able to participate under the banner of an organization that I believe in, made it more special.
After picking up the Homes First promotion banner, we headed towards an adventure into the unknown! Well, we did know we had to head towards the starting point of the parade - St.George and Hoskins Street close to Bloor Street. As we neared this area, we could already feel a fresh palpable energy in the air. In case anyone was worried about getting lost among the crowds of people who were starting to gather along the pavement in anticipation of the parade; all you had to do was follow the familiar shrill of melodious Bagpipes. As we walked further north on St. George street towards the music, we were soon weaving through a collection of amazing floats and participants, all warming up for the 3.1 km walk all along the streets of Toronto.
The enthusiasm of adults and seniors were visibly far greater if not equal to, than the rambunctiousness of the kids and youth. A medley of colors flooded the streets-around St. George, with each group bringing their finest costumes, exceedingly creative props and even wider smiles. Marching Bands offered some rhythm to the seemingly chaotic scene. The parade organizers were zooming in and around the crowds on feet or golf carts, directing groups to their spots, and giving last minute instructions. It was amazing to witness the multitude of folks, completely organized and arranging themselves in order of their pre-assigned banner numbers, all along the street.
Kallan and a few volunteers along with one of our very own resident – Joyce, had arrived early on location. They had collected our Homes First “Long” banner that was provided by the St. Patrick’s Parade Society to be held at the head of our group to identify ourselves. After a bit of ‘Marco-Polo’ in the sea of crowds, all of us managed to assemble at the approximate spot in the parade line-up. With both our Homes First banners unfurled, all we had to do next was wait for the parade to start its boisterous walk. This gave us ample time to pose for selfies, grab shamrock stickers, wear green hats, practice waving a few parade props, and help each other click group pictures. Meanwhile, Joy was excited by the infectious energy and was on the lookout for leprechauns; be it with a pot of gold or not. (Later on, she did get a chocolate ‘gold’ coin from a gentleman leprechaun in the parade).
Before long, we were on our way, with the parade led by the Grand Marshall – Michael McCormack; followed by multitude of floats and participants representing different organizations, associations, non-profits and for-profits in Toronto and the GTA; accompanied by marching bands drumming away. One of the groups behind us, played many Irish pop songs to get us all into the spirit of the day.
It seemed as if the whole city had stepped out in droves to cheer the parade and bask in the warmth of community, that this city, consistently brings to every occasion big or small. Eager residents of this diverse city of Toronto stood by the pavement with their cameras and smartphones recording moments of sheer fun and rejoicing. Most of them wore green hats, beads and clothes; waving, clapping, cheering, wishing everyone a happy ‘St. Paddy’s Day’. The numerous creatively decorated floats, such as this year’s award-winning Dublin Float or tiny red planes “worn/flown” by men in white overalls or the Irish dancing academy and many others, highlighted the traditional (Irish dancing, Bagpipes, the Saint himself) or not-so-traditional (DeLorean cars, Chinese dragon); facets of Irish celebratory fervor.
Our own small yet extremely passionate group of volunteers whooped with joyous sloganeering (Everyone Needs a Home), clapping and waving to the crowds. Our little mascot – Joy with her green-streaked hair, was on her feet prancing, waving and encouraging the crowds to cheer for us; not to forget that she walked the entire distance. Her antics brought our banners much-needed attention. It felt good to be cheered by the crowds who gave their approval by clapping, appreciating the work that Homes First Society does.
The parade ended near City Hall on University Road, concluding a few hours of shared smiles and laughter. All in all, it was an amazing experience for everyone involved and a Sunday well-spent.
One of the highlights of the day was, it did not matter who you were, where you came from or what you represented, the patron Saint of Ireland, managed to rally the people of Toronto to join the festivities, shoulder-to-shoulder, marching to happy music in this 30th Year of the Parade. Homes First debuted in style and did its part to let the residents of the city know that – Everyone Needs a Home; and they too could play a part in helping towards this dream. After this small gesture, I hope the luck of the Irish rubs off on the numerous homeless and less fortunate occupants of our city, in the form of a roof over their heads.
Written by: Pratheesh Nair, Homes First volunteer