First Canada Day parade met with laughter, founder recalls

First Canada Day parade met with laughter, founder recalls

Among the tens of thousands of flag-waving revellers expected to line the streets for Montreal’s Canada Day parade, there will be one man who remembers the year he almost marched alone. Founder of the Montreal Canada Day parade Roopnarine Singh poses in Montreal, Friday, June 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

MONTREAL — Among the tens of thousands of flag-waving revellers expected to line the streets for Montreal’s Canada Day parade, there will be one man who remembers the year he almost marched alone.

Roopnarine Singh, a Trinidad-born Montreal doctor, organized the first Canada Day parade in 1978 after being horrified there was no celebration to mark his adopted country’s birthday.

The province had elected its first sovereigntist premier in Rene Levesque, and few seemed enthusiastic to join an overt display of Canadian patriotism.

So when rain clouds loomed, Singh said the few friends who had agreed to join him almost backed out.

“I said ‘no, if you don’t come I have a permit and a big Canadian flag, and I alone will walk down the street,'” he recalled in a phone interview.

In the end, the parade went off with a handful of cars and some 20 participants.

“Everyone laughed at us,” said Singh, now 80.

Despite the inauspicious start, Singh would go on to organize the event for another 26 years, earning the nickname “Mr. Canada” in the process.

At times, he faced criticism for his unabashed patriotism in a province where the July 1 holiday was traditionally met with ambivalence.

He recalls years of fighting to secure funding for the event, occasionally becoming a thorn in the side of political leaders who didn’t want to anger the province’s separatist faction in the years surrounding the two referendums.

The now-retired cardiologist, who arrived in Canada at the age of 24, never appeared to have any such qualms about expressing his love for his country.

It was on a cross-country camping trip that “I realized this country was ten countries, this country had the greatest potential of any country in the world,” he said.

“And although it is limited in population, in terms of liberty and security and prosperity and peace, there is no nation as great as Canada.”

His vocal opposition to Quebec separatism led to his receiving the occasional phone threat, and someone once threw a brick with a political message through the window of his home.

But Singh also points out that he’s received a lot of help from francophone Quebecers along the way, including one who once stepped in to pay the bands that performed in the parade after the event was denied federal funding.

Singh, who is retired, now spends his time studying Hindu teachings — and occasionally taking to Twitter to encourage Canadians to hang more flags from their windows.

He says he’s happy to see how big and diverse the parade has become, though he laments that it isn’t broadcast live on television.

He now splits his time between Trinidad and Toronto, but he’s in Montreal to attend the parade for what he says could be the last time.

“This year I’m (turning) 81, so I don’t know much longer long I can do it, but I’m here because its the 150th year and I’m not sure how many more years I can come,” he said.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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