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It's back! Victoria Day Parade hits the streets for first time since 2019

"It's wonderful to be back."

The Victoria Day Parade attracted pre-pandemic-size crowds Monday, including newcomers to Victoria, toddlers who had yet to see a parade, and seniors who had lost some agility over the years but not their love of the 122-year tradition.

Sidney town crier Kenny Podmore and assistant Rhonda Todrick kicked off the 122nd Victoria Day Parade from Mayfair shopping centre at 9 a.m. Monday, with the last of about 70 floats and other entries leaving about 10:15 a.m.

Whether it was motorcyclists wearing helmets made to look like furry Muppets, fire trucks blasting their horns, the sweet sounds of the Spectrum and Reynolds school marching bands, or the Shriner clowns, the children waved and cheered.

The parade made its way down Douglas Street to Courtney Street with the Royal Canadian Navy’s Naden Band leading the procession, followed by 12 military groups.

Bruce Wight, past-president B.C. Command Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans, said it was wonderful to be back. He marched in 2019 and many years before that. “I’ve been doing this for 55 years,” Wight, 78, said from his Jeep. “This is the first year I haven’t been able to march because my legs just won’t do it anymore. It’s just what you do when you get a bit older.”

For the Veselka Ukrainian Dancers, the stress of the pandemic has been followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the dancers were colourful in spirit and dress.

Uma Hallea, president of the group, said she hopes the crowds saw the dancers’ strength and well as their joy.

“It feels great to be here,” Hallea said, “to show everyone our costumes, to show our pride in Ukraine and the strength in the Ukrainian people.”

Trevor Botkin, general manager of HeroWork Victoria, said it was the first time the group, which renovates properties for charities, had a float in the parade. It was his first time, too. “I’m pumped, this is my first parade I’ve ever been in, in my life.” The float’s music was meant to buoy parade goers but also to attract more people to “one of the greatest volunteer experiences in the Victoria area,” Botkin said. “We’re happy to be here on behalf of Gordy Dodd, who put us up as charity of choice for this year’s parade.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it was “really exciting” to see the crowds lining the parade route. Helps biked to and through the parade.

“I know this is the beginning of an amazing summer of festivals,” she said. “I think we’ve got more festivals than ever funded and planned for downtown this summer — and this is kind of the kickoff.”

Beth Dick, of the Songhees Nation singers and dancers, said she has missed the parade and performing traditional songs and dances for the community. “One of the things I miss the most is seeing how people are excited about not seeing us but about seeing everybody — the firemen, the police, and the clowns, even though I don’t like clowns — everything,” Dick said. “I like having this interaction again, it’s healing.”

Rachel Trudeau was thrilled to bring son Henry, born in 2020, to his first Victoria Day Parade.

“He was a COVID baby so we felt he was missing out on a lot of experiences but now that he’s old enough, he’s at a really great age and to take him to the parade and have him recognize the trucks and people and horses and people in the bands — he’s loving it,” Trudeau said.

“It feels like, after two years, it’s really nice to be back to see everyone in our community and be reminded of all the community groups that are out there,” she said. “We’re very excited.”

Bruna Silva, who move to Canada from Brazil and works as a nanny, took children Mira, Everett and Adeline along with her to her first Victoria Day Parade. “I love it, it’s really fun,” Silva said. “I miss parades because we also have many in Brazil.”

Five-year-old Adeline said her favourite part of the parade was “all of it” — a common answer, along with “everything” and “all the stuff” — from children along the parade route.

Charlie Lidstone, 14, was at the parade with his family and said he especially liked the marching bands. Sister Evelyn Lidstone, 12, was more interested in those marching on four-legs: “I enjoyed the horses, mostly.”

Unlike years past, when candy was thrown into the crowds and children scrambled to retrieve it, groups this year handed it out individually or attached it to promotional cards. Others handed out stickers, compact discs of music, carabiners, reusable shopping bags and VicPD “junior constable” badges.

Surveillance cameras were set up for the parade but police said there were no major incidents. Police Chief Del Manak, Deputy Chief Colin Watson and police volunteers were in the parade along with two VicPD vehicles.