HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Drawing on the Irish heritage of Holyoke in its earliest days known as “Ireland parish,” the inaugural St. Patrick’s parade was hosted on March 16, 1952, with 25,000 people watching along the parade route. That number grew to 100,000 by 1960, 200,000 by 1975, and reached a peak of over 400,000 in 2011.

WWLP televised the parade on March 17, 1953, our first-ever broadcast exactly 69 years ago.

The Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade showcases prize-winning floats, championship bands from the northeast, and notable celebrities each year. Musical units include international bands, high school bands, and the famed Philadelphia mummers string bands, an annual favorite since 1967.

Beginning in 1955 a grand colleen and her court has reigned over the annual parade from a majestic float that carries them along the nearly three-mile parade route. Other local cities also elect their own colleens and courts and are also represented by police, fire, and dignitaries.

From those modest beginnings, the annual parade has grown into one of the premier outdoor events in the northeast. Coupled with the St. Patrick’s Road Race held annually the day before the parade, the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade has an economic impact that is in excess of $20 million.

The 69th Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade will be held on Sunday and will step-off at around 11:10 a.m. from the former Kmart Plaza along a 2.65-mile route. It will be broadcasted live right here on 22News this Sunday at 12 p.m.