By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
For the first time since 2011, the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade sails into the shore of West Haven’s deep-rooted Italian-American community at 1 p.m. Sunday with the largest procession of its kind in New England, featuring 80 marching units and 25 bands.
The city takes over the Columbus Day Committee of Greater New Haven’s rotating parade from last year’s host, Hamden, assuming site duties for the annual procession that celebrates the intrepid spirit of Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator who discovered the New World 525 years ago and charted a course for millions of Italian sons and daughters who followed his crossing to America.
“The journey of Christopher Columbus is one of the great stories of daring and discovery, just as the journey of Italian immigrants is a story of discovery and bravery,” said Mayor Edward M. O’Brien, whose Italian roots run on his mother’s side of the family. “As we embark on our city’s third parade in Columbus’ name, let us commemorate his indomitable legacy and recognize the inspiring contributions of the Italian people to the heartbeat of our nation.”
More than 15 million Americans claim Italian heritage, including about 40 percent of West Haven’s residents, O’Brien esti- mated.
O’Brien has tapped Italian-American residents Natalie Guiliano DeRosa, Grace Iannucci Hendricks and Marie D. Lacobelle to helm the parade as grand marshals.
The 1.5-mile parade route steps off, weather permitting, at Captain Thomas Boulevard and flows up Campbell Avenue to Center Street as Italian flags line the way.
The two-hour procession was also held in the city in 2006.
To make the parade more of a regional event and attract more spectators, the committee in 2003 expanded the procession, originally held in New Haven, to North Haven, East Haven, Hamden and West Haven and added Branford in 2013, said Chairwoman Laura F. Luzzi, of Hamden.
The municipalities take turns hosting the parade once every six years, Luzzi said.
Heavy rain canceled last year’s parade in Hamden.
The parade began in New Haven in 1892. The Knights of Columbus held a parade to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the New World.
“On behalf of the Columbus Day Committee of Greater New Haven, we are thrilled to be returning to the city of West Hav- en,” said Luzzi, a supervisor at the Hamden Recreation Depart- ment. “My committee along with Mayor O’Brien and his hard- working staff have worked diligently to organize and fundraise for this year’s parade, in which we anticipate a great celebration in West Haven.”
The parade begins with an escort division led by the grand marshals with the West Haven High School Band, committee members and the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard.
The procession, composed of five divisions, includes just about every kind of group, marching unit, float and vehicle imaginable, including the armed forces, police and fire departments, Italian-American societies, drill teams, drum and bugle and fife and drum corps, fraternal organizations and service clubs, school bands, and veterans and nonmilitary color guards.
Police traffic plans call for closing the south side of Captain Thomas Boulevard between Savin and Campbell avenues at 10:30 a.m. Captain Thomas between Campbell and Washington avenues will steer two-way traffic on the south side.
Traffic plans also call for closing all of Campbell Avenue at 12:30 p.m.