Monday, May 18, 2020

From the High School Lesson Book - Victoria Day

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 God Save the Queen! Today is Victoria Day in Canada, and although this long weekend is thought of as the beginning of the summer season, it started out as a way to honor Queen Victoria.

Dronning victoria

Down through history, the birthdays of monarchs have often been occasions of celebration. Before Victoria came to the British throne in 1837, the birthday of the king or queen was usually a military occasion. During the 18th century in colonial North America, local militias would hold compulsory training exercises on the monarch's birthday, and then would drink a toast to the king in the local tavern.

In 1841, the parliaments of Upper and Lower Canada were replaced by a single parliament for the Province of Canada. In an effort to find common ground between English and French Canadians, a celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday was one idea that appealed to all. The young queen's birthday, May 24th, was first declared an official public holiday in 1845 by the legislative assembly of the Province of Canada.

First Government House in Toronto 1854
Celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday in Toronto, 1854

Over the years the celebrations grew, and Canadians welcomed the chance to display loyalty to the crown, and the date conveniently heralded the beginning of warmer weather. On Queen Victoria's 35th birthday in 1854, about five thousand Canadians gathered in Toronto, and by the time of Confederation in 1867, the festivities included parades, military reviews, picnics, and fireworks. Queen Victoria was especially loved by Canadians, as she was the monarch on the throne when Canada became an independent country, and she had chosen Ottawa as the new nation's capital.

Queen Victoria by Bassano

These early holidays didn't always fall on a weekend, as they were always held on May 24th. Canadians continued to honor and remember Queen Victoria on that date after her death in 1901, and celebrated the ruling monarch's birthday separately. In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were touring Canada during May, so Victoria Day was used as the official birthday of the king, even though his birthday was actually in December. Then in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II (whose birthday is in April) ascended the throne, and Victoria Day became the official celebration of the queen's birthday. At that time, the date was fixed as the Monday before May 25th of each year, creating a long weekend right at the beginning of summer.

Canada remains the only country of the Commonwealth to commemorate Queen Victoria with a public holiday. The federal government protocol is that the Royal Union Flag (or Union Jack) is flown from sunrise to sunset at all federal buildings.

These days Canadians enjoy the long weekend as a chance to get away to the cottage or cabin, barbecue, or attend outdoor festivals. 

I guess Victoria Day will be a quieter holiday in Canada this year, without much in the way of festivals and parades. But I'm sure many Canadians will welcome the summer season with a weekend getaway if they can! And here in the USA, we will have a regular workday today, but perhaps will raise a glass to remember our Canadian heritage and toast the Queen.

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