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St. Patrick’s Day charm missing in the ‘Irish capital of Canada’

Historically, hundreds and sometimes thousands would flock to Douglas, Ont., a small community 120 kilometres west of Ottawa, for its famed St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivities.

But in recent years, the so called ‘Irish Capital of Canada’ has been quieter when March 17 rolls around.

Many in Douglas believe since the closing of the Douglas Tavern in 2021, the community has lost some of its Irish charm.

“People would line up sometimes at 7:30 in the morning to get in on St. Patrick’s Day and maybe stayed to 7:30 the next morning,” said Douglas resident Jim McHale, whose brother Terry was once the owner of the Douglas Tavern.

“It’s very much different here now where we are.”

McHale’s brother Terry, and his wife Evelyn, retired in 2021 and sold the tavern, which has since become The Douglas Trading Post.

Running from 2012 to 2019, a St. Patrick’s Day parade was also part of festivities in Douglas. That tradition was halted by the pandemic and never returned.

“Well, the parade, there would be a few thousand,” said Preston Cull, who was one of the parade organizers.

Cull agrees that Douglas has lost some of the charm the Irish celebrations once brought.

“Well, it is sad. The next generations, they don’t know what they have missed.”

“I don’t know what the grieving period is going to be for the Douglas Tavern, I think all of us are still going through the grieving period,” said Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue.

Donohue also recognizes a piece of the community is missing, but says bringing back the lore of St. Patrick’s Day is difficult.

“I think that it’s a challenge with the tavern being in the center of Douglas and perhaps the center of the world, quite frankly, for all of those years. There doesn’t seem to be that that central housing force right now,” he said.

Dan Peters, owner of the Douglas Trading Post says he continues to hear stories about days gone by at the Douglas Tavern.

Taking over such a historic location comes with caretaker responsibilities. Peters says he is hoping to reunite the community back at the site by next St. Patrick’s Day.

“We’re going to do a restaurant so we can have kind of a meeting place. More coffee than beer, but it’ll still be a little meeting place where the wall of fame is,” Peters said.

Private parties have become the norm in recent years in Douglas.

Cull says the responsibility of St. Patrick’s Day in Douglas may have to fall on the next generation of local Irish heritage.

“If somebody wants to step up to the plate and do something, people will go,” he said.

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