Origin of the Cat Parade
In 1938, on 13 March, a sort of Cat Parade with music and a fool, accompanied by nine altar boys who each carried a toy cat walked from the city hall to the belfry. A children's party was first held there where plastic cats were thrown down. This was followed by a short break with carillon music and a concert of Theban trumpets. While the city fool climbed the tower to throw down the toy cats, white and red paper confetti fluttered down. The spectators had already seen a cycling competition - the 'Cats' race' - in the morning.
During World War II the Cat Parade was again stopped, but on 17 March 1946 toy cats were thrown again, preceded by a small parade and the condemnation of the cat on the Market square.
Mayor Jan Vanderghote dreamt of expanding the small parade and that dream was realised by his successor Albert Dehem. In the early Fifties new folkloristic parades appeared all over West Flanders. It was the ideal time to create a big Cat Parade. Together with a few great Ypres names like Octaaf Mus and Daniël Merlevede Dehem created a magnificent parade with 1500 extras, all dressed in gorgeous costumes. The fantastic designs of Frans van Immerseel were transformed into masks and impressive floats. On the second Sunday of Lent in 1955 the first great Cat Parade was a fact.
The meaning of the parade to the organisers differed from person to person. For Mayor Dehem it was an ideal lever to place Ypres that had been completely wiped out after the war back on the map. He also wanted to bind various relations to the city in a pleasant way. Others, including Octaaf Mus, wanted to give the city population that 'Ypres feeling' back, which had rather disappeared after the traumas of war. By giving people a common project a bond was created between them. Ypres is called a Cats' city because of the big parade, not because the Medieval Cats throwing. Until the Eighties, Ypres was better known for its Cat Parade than for war tourism. The city owes a lot to the parade. It made Ypres known in Belgium again and has reinforced the feeling of unity in the population. Currently the front tourism experiences a boom however, whereas the Cat Parade only takes place every three years since the Nineties. This does not mean that the parade does not attract spectators any more. On the contrary. The Ypres streets are always filled with city inhabitants and tourists wanting to see the show.
The parade itself, which always takes place on the second Sunday of May, experienced few essential changes over the years. Directed by Bart Cafmeyer (from 1997 to present) the parade is innovated every year, but since its origin it always has a few permanent themes with established Cat Parade values.
The parade starts with an advertising caravan, the introduction and opening by the Koninklijke Harmonie Ypriana. After the flag swaying, tableaux are depicted such as Ypres Historical City, Ypres Cats' City, Cat worship in history, Cats in Language and Legend, the Cat around the World etc... After the parade everyone goes to the Hall tower where the city fool throws a few toy cats down.