Chief Bill Blair knows that he walks on behalf of his proud Irish family, police service and his diverse city in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year.
“It’s personal and professional. It’s an acknowledgement and celebration for me of my Irish roots but also my police service’s connection to this country,” Chief Blair says, of his family’s and police service’s link to the Emerald Isle.
Both branches of his family tree trace back to Irish immigrants settling in the then-sleepy town of Toronto at the turn of the century.
His roots trace back to Northern Ireland, his maternal grandparents William and Margaret (Peggy) McCourt hailed from Belfast.
While his paternal grandparents, John and Elizabeth Blair came from village outside of Enniskillen in the County Fermanagh.
Many of his grandparents and great uncles were drawn to public service with the city, most with the fire and police departments of the time.
“I like to say we’ve been putting out fires and breaking up fights in this town for over a century,” the Chief boasts.
“There was a long tradition of the Irish population of the city gravitating toward public service and public safety – it’s what we did.”
I like to say we’ve been putting out fires and breaking up fights in this town for over a century
Throughout the history of the Toronto Police there has always been a large contingent of Irish officers, disproportionate to the overall population of Toronto.
“The Toronto Police Service has always participated in the parade our band will play our horses will ride and our officers will march and we will be out there with the people of Toronto to celebrate our heritage and our history,” Blair says. “The Toronto Police Service has strong connections to the Irish in the city and when we all gather for the St. Patrick’s Day parade it’s a celebration of that shared history.”
He said it was almost inevitable that his father, John, and himself would become police officers.
At home, there was always a strong link to Ireland.
“Growing up in my family the Irish heritage defined us. Every Sunday in my house there was a radio program Songs From Home filling my house with Irish music,” says Blair, of his mom’s choice. “At every family function the mouth organs and accordions and other musical instruments would come out and they’d all sing Irish songs to the wee hours of the morning.”
It was a joyous thing to be Irish.
Toronto is one of the most remarkably diverse places in the world but on one day of the year we all become Irish
As he grew up Blair has recognized the contribution that the Irish people have made to the city after enormous waves of immigration. His own family settling in the east end, Corktown and Cabbagetown included, where Blair sees their influence to this day.
He says the city is fortunate to have many people preserving that history through the parade.
“The history of the Irish people is a very important part of the history of the city of Toronto,” Blair says. “The Irish who came to Canada and settled in Toronto played a major role in creating what the city became.”
My family was always very proud and celebrated their Irish heritage and their roots of the Irish community in Toronto in Cabbagetown and Corktown and in those social institutions and churches in Toronto
“It continues, we’ve maintained our connection to the Irish people in Canada and in Ireland, those relationships remain very strong,” Blair says, of the Service and community.
“St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate our history, our heritage and our community,” says Blair, noting that Irish roots are not necessary to join in the celebration.
“Toronto is one of the most remarkably diverse places in the world but on one day of the year we all become Irish.”