A moment in history: March 15, 1929

A moment in history: March 15, 1929

· The Pulse

On this day in 1929, Edmontonians were all set to cheerfully celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

"Cheery chums" filled a room at the YWCA for a lively banquet that was bright with "green and white candles, narcissi and festive place cards," according to a newspaper account. A masquerade party was in the offing, and shamrocks were for sale starting at 25 cents. However, there have been times in Edmonton's history when St. Patrick's Day was a more controversial affair.

The earliest St. Patrick's Day celebrations in North America date back to the 18th century. Irish soldiers marched in Boston as early as 1737. But Western Canada's Irish population was relatively sparse until a wave of immigration from Europe in the late 1800s. By 1916, there would be over 58,000 people who identified as Irish living in Alberta, the vast majority of those being Canadian- or American-born descendants of Irish immigrants.

In contrast to cities in the United States, the majority of Irish immigrants to Edmonton were Unionists who wanted Ireland to stay as part of the United Kingdom. Even so, some Irish Edmontonians saw the holiday as a way to push for self-rule. In 1906, the city woke up on St. Patrick's Day to find that someone had replaced the British flag above City Hall with an Irish one. Whether it was a prank or a political statement, the Edmonton Journal wrote about the "Home Rule emblem" being flown above the city.

In 1909, the Edmonton Irish Association was founded. Within a few years, it had grown to about 300 members. In addition to starting a number of athletic clubs and leagues for the city's Irish community, the association would sponsor St. Patrick's Day events every year until it was dissolved in 1916.

St. Patrick's Day became even more of a sticky topic when the First World War broke out. For many, the celebrations always meant an uneasy balance between loyalty to Ireland and loyalty to the British (and Canadian) Crown. But with the United Kingdom now at war, that balance was more complex, and public St. Patrick's Day festivities faded away. This trend continued even after the war ended, following Ireland's Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War.

When St. Patrick's Day celebrations did start to pop up in Edmonton again in the 1920s, they were much more muted in their nationalist sentiments and more mainstream within the city's wider population. St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Edmonton now extend far beyond the city's Irish community, with Celtic music, discounted Guinness pints, and neon-green milkshakes found all over the place on March 17.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.