I’m an Ottawa Valley girl who grew up a short drive away from the Douglas Tavern in Douglas, Ontario—the undisputed epicentre of St. Paddy’s Day celebrations.
I remember the Douglas Tavern, affectionately known as “the Diddley”, as the place to which wayward students disappeared when playing hooky from my high school. The “Ladies and Escorts” sign still hangs outside the door—as a nod to history, not as a means of enforcement. The tavern has sticky floors, pickled eggs behind the bar and a permanent stale beer smell.
On St. Patrick’s Day people dressed in Leprechaun-green cram into every corner and belt out “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The crowd overflows to the streets, so the entire community is taken over by shamrock-crazed partiers.
It’s not high-brow entertainment, mind you, but a gathering of more honest, open-hearted people you will never find.
Not too far from Douglas, life in Mount St. Patrick comes to a virtual stop to make way for the green beer and fiddle music party that celebrates the man for whom the small community is named.
The combination of my English/Irish ancestry and Ottawa Valley heritage means that I celebrate on March 17 with hearty stew, a glass of ale, and a tip of the hat to my ancestors. who had a hard knock life of drudgery making it on unforgiving Canadian terrain. Many times I have done so in Douglas or in Mount St. Patrick, but many more times my celebrations occurred in other far-flung places. But no matter whether I was in Mexico on a student exchange, in Windsor at university, on March Break vacations at Mont Ste. Anne, QC, Whistler, BC, Lake Louise, AB, or Florida, a little piece of my soul was always back in the Ottawa Valley on St. Patrick’s Day.
Given his hard life, I think St. Patrick would have enjoyed a hearty stew and a glass of ale. Given the hard work my ancestors faced carving their farms out of the rocky Ottawa Valley landscape, I think they too would have tucked into a bowl of hot stew with ravenous gratitude. (I’m not sure about the ale, though; there were a number of teetotalers in recent generations.)
My stew is in the slow cooker, the ale is chilling in the fridge, and the green shamrock cookies are ready for dessert. Now, I must go dig out the fiddle music.
When I sing, a little corner of my soul will be in the Ottawa Valley.
Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair it hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band