It had been 731 days since crowds lined West Pike Street in Canonsburg to watch the annual Fourth of July Parade.
But on Saturday, thousands of parade-goers from the area and from out of town, clad in red, white and blue, celebrated the return of the beloved Independence Day parade that has been around for 58 years.
It was canceled last year, for the first time in its history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the iconic chairs set up three rows deep along some stretches of the parade route, people clapped, cheered, and danced as nearly 130 units – made up of marching bands, fife and drum corps, antique cars, and floats sandwiched between police cars and firetrucks – celebrated the nation’s birthday.
Among those in attendance was Shelley Blackhurst of Eighty Four, who has been attending the parade since she was little.
“We’ve been coming here since I was a kid. My parents would always bring us. I marched in the parade, I’ve danced in the parade, and now I bring my four children,” said Blackhurst, dressed in patriotic colors and wearing aviator sunglasses tinted with stars and stripes. “It’s just a really good time.”
Blackhurst and about 30 family members and friends set up their camp under a tent, complete with hot dogs, donuts, and other food and beverages in front of St. Patrick Church.
After last year’s parade cancellation, Blackhurst was delighted with its return in 2021.
“We were very sad last year when we didn’t have it, so we’re happy to be here today. This parade means everything. This is our home, this is all of us coming together in the community to celebrate our independence, and what better time than this year to celebrate? It’s a perfect day. It’s beautiful, it’s not 90 degrees, where everyone is hot and children are melting.”
For sisters Bonnie Ford and Janet Brenenborg of Etna, who have for years heard that no town does Independence Day like Canonsburg, this year’s parade was the first they attended.
“It was on (Bonnie’s) bucket list,” said Brenenborg.
“I’ve heard so much about it, how it was the biggest parade, that it’s fun, so I said, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ who knows how long you’ve got to live, so let’s do it.”
They considered putting their chairs out the night before, in order to take part in the annual tradition of reserving a sidewalk spot by setting chairs out in advance, but instead arrived at 8 a.m. to stake out a front-row seat.
“What really impressed us is how everybody puts their chairs out. I wanted to do that,” said Brenenborg. “But we were up early.”
This year’s parade grand marshals were essential workers who were on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crowd clapped and cheered as they rode past.
The unofficial theme of the parade was “We’re back,” and there was a sense of excitement and enthusiasm among parade-goers as the community continues to re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canonsburg Mayor Dave Rhome walked the parade route, thanking people for turning out.
“Welcome back, it’s good to see you,” Rhome repeated.
Several floats were adorned with red, white and blue flags, including the VFW Post 764 Auxiliary.
There was plenty of music during the 2 1/2 hour-long parade, including the 28th Infantry Band, the Ohio Valley Community Band, and, for the first time, the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band.
Among the dance troupes to perform were the Joyce Ellis Dancers, carrying a banner in memory of the group’s founder, who died in December following a battle with cancer.
Kalynn Hanna, who recently opened Kay’s Beauty Bar in the former Tiny Store, invited clients, family and friends to watch the parade from in front of her shop, and set out a bounce house, corn hole and sidewalk chalk for the children.
“I love this so much, it’s amazing, this tradition,” said Hanna. “We’re going to make this a big tradition here. I grew up in Washington so I never came down here, but we’re going to keep doing this because we’re having a blast.”
Some resumed their own traditions during the parade. Ninety-year-old Mike Pozonsky of Canonsburg, who served with the U.S. Air Force during the Korean Conflict, marched with the Canonsburg VFW Post 191 (he’s never missed a parade).
Others were forced to change theirs. For years, Eric McGroskey of Clinton handed a beer to his cousin, John Valdiserri, a tub player with the Valencic Bros & Friends polka band, as the polka-playing float passed by. But Valdiserri died in 2020, so McGroskey instead conducted a ceremonial hand-off with another band member, in memory of Valdiserri.
The parade was one part of the Fourth of July events taking place in town.
The morning kicked off with the annual Whiskey Rebellion 5K race, in which nearly 450 runners – including future U.S. Navy sailors and recruiters who helped and/or participated in – ran.
The last finisher of the day, Suzanne Frye, is a Belle Vernon native who has multiple sclerosis and competed in a wheelchair.
As she crossed the finish line, runners and those who watched gathered along the track and clapped and cheered.
“I thought maybe I’d get some clapping, but this was overwhelming, the volume and the number of people,” said Frye. “It feels very encouraging.”
Free activities were held at Canonsburg Town Park, and pool admission was free. The night concluded with fireworks display.
Editor's note: This story has been updated.