Luck o’ the Irish? Businesses on cancelled parade route green with envy as Irish pubs prepare to party

ByWard Market
ByWard Market

While the usual St. Patrick’s Day hotspots are prepared for a big bash Friday night, businesses who once relied on traffic from the now-cancelled parade aren’t feeling quite as lucky.

A family event that has not wound its way through Ottawa streets since 2019, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, hosted by the Ottawa Irish Society and Big Rig Brewery, would have celebrated its 38th anniversary this year. 

However, the event was cancelled last month, with organizers citing a lack of volunteers and funding. The planned parade route began at City Hall, travelled along Laurier Avenue and down Bank Street before ending at Lansdowne Park.

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Arlington Five, an independent coffee shop just off of Bank Street on Arlington Street, does not have high hopes for St. Patrick’s Day traffic. Since the pandemic, the cafe has learned not to rely on city-run events to bring customers through the door, said Jacob Bleecker, manager of coffee operations.

“With recent previous parades, they haven’t brought in as much business as we had hoped,” Bleecker told OBJ. “The Pride parade changed routes, so it didn’t pass by us at all. The Christmas parade brought some business, but I think most people stayed on the Glebe side for it.”

Before the pandemic, Arlington Five made huge preparations for parades, especially the Ottawa Pride Parade, which the team “really anticipated” for bringing in customers, Bleecker said. 

As for St. Patrick’s Day, the cafe hadn’t scheduled additional staff, ordered extra inventory, or made any other preparations in anticipation of the parade, so Bleecker said the cancellation made no impact. Instead, his team has learned to rely on events like the Arlington Art Market, which they host with local artist TRP613.

“Those are events that we make happen, though,” he said. “I feel city-organized events haven’t benefited us too much lately.”

Bleecker will be at work on Friday and Saturday and is neither concerned nor hopeful about the festivities – or lack thereof – impacting the coffee shop.

On the other hand, many of the city’s Irish pubs are buzzing in anticipation of a post-pandemic St. Patrick’s Day bash.

At the Heart and Crown, which has locations in Barrhaven, Little Italy and the ByWard Market as well as the Aulde Dubliner Pour House in the Market, CEO Shauna Bradley is anticipating a “massive” weekend and a “huge turnout”. 

In fact, she said she is expecting this year to be bigger than ever. 

“Last year was a funny in-between. People were out, we were almost done with restrictions and it was awesome, but it was still at a point where being in crowds felt new again. There was mild hesitation,” she explained. “Don’t get me wrong, crowds came out, but it was a little unsure and felt strange.”

Nonetheless, celebrations from 2022 still saw about 2,000 pints of Guinness sold and 10,000 green-clad patrons pass through the pubs’ doors. Of those, 5,000 were at the ByWard Market location. 

Preparations include scheduling extra staff and securing 100 kegs of Guinness across all locations, Bradley said. Patios are ready to go, just in case the weather is mild, and extra liquor, food and glassware have been ordered, she added.

“This year is going to be massive. We’ve had almost a year with no restrictions, and life seems to be getting back to normal,” Bradley said. “We’re excited.”

The pubs are promoting breakfast offers and extended hours, with Irish dancers performing from the Sue Fay Healy Irish School of Dance. Partygoers can also find live music from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. at all locations.

“We’re always trying to prepare for everything,” said Bradley. 

“Sometimes there are people lined up outside before staff even open up,” she laughed. “It’s the biggest night of the year, but don’t forget about us the rest of the year.”

Bradley, who prefers the title “Queen of Hearts” over “CEO”, took over the Heart and Crown Irish Pubs establishment from her father, who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s from County Tyrone, Ireland. She remembers that Heart and Crown always celebrated with a float in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and had this year’s version “ready to go.”

She said she will miss the parade this year.

“I do feel bad for the Bank Street businesses,” she said. “This would have been the first since COVID and it’s so disappointing. I’ve been going since I was a kid and I’ve been in the parade.

“I hope we can bring it back next year and maybe even have it end in the Market near us.”

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