It was indeed worth getting up early for. The parade is never advertised. “We just do it for fun,” said everyone I asked. When participants do things for fun, everybody wins – if they can find out about it.
I arrived at The Musket restaurant at 6:30am, early enough to talk with some of the 25 band members as they prepared for the 7am parade. They were putting on blue and white striped robes, masks, and blue paper hair. “We should be wearing a different coloured costume every year, but we can’t afford it,” said one with a laugh.
Their parade has been going on annually since 1976. “We started in Yorkville,” said Hans-Peter Schmidd, one of the organizers. They were thrown out of Yorkville because they were too noisy, too early. Their parade is now in an industrial part of Etobicoke where no one needs to sleep.
The Morgestraich in Basel is Switzerland’s biggest carnival. It inspired Toronto’s parade. It’s a three-day event in Switzerland, starting on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. It began as a Protestant attempt to tease Catholics during the austerity of Lent. It starts at 4am in Basel with all the lights turned off and 40,000 pipers and drummers making a lot of noise while carrying lanterns.
I didn’t notice any pipers, but this band has drummers and a trombone painted with hearts. It has a bass horn, trumpets, and a washboard. One woman was wearing a papier mache mask with a big hole over the mouth so she could play her flute. A group of friends and a police car followed the parade around the block at 7 and again at 9am.
The band performed inside The Musket too. If you don’t expect the precision and swagger of the marching bands in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, it’s pretty good.
The restaurant served traditional soup and cheese quiche. Band members sold cookies and deep-fried pancakes sprinkled with sugar. They were happy to answer questions and joke. It was a fun event and I felt welcome. Not being Swiss didn’t matter. The band itself has members of Chinese and West Indian origin. This puts it high up on my list of exemplary multicultural events.