Monday, May 21, 2007


Victoria Day is a Canadian(though it is also celebrated in parts of Scotland as well) statutory holiday celebrated on the last Monday before or on May 24th. It was originally a celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday, as the birthday of the British monarch has traditionally been a holiday. It was declared a holiday in 1845 by the legislature of the Province of Canada. After Confederation in 1867 the Queen's birthday was celebrated every May 24th unless it was a Sunday, in which case it was celebrated on the 25th. When Victoria died in 1901 the celebration of her birthday became Empire Day in the British Empire. It was instituted in England by Lord Meath in 1904. In 1958 Empire Day was renamed as Commonwealth Day. In 1973 the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada sent a letter to then Prime Minister Trudeau expressing the wish that Commonwealth Day should be observed on the same day throughout the Commonwealth. In a 1976 meeting of the Commonwealth in Canberra, Australia the Canadian proposal of the second Monday in March was adopted as the official Commonwealth Day. This day is little known in either Canada or the other Commonwealth nations. Its only official recognition in Canada is that the Royal Union Flag(the Union Jack) be flown along with the Canadian flag "where physical arrangements allow" ie where there are two flagpoles at federal institutions. Only in Belize is it a public holiday. Other countries such as Australia or New Zealand celebrate a 'Queen's Birthday' Day. Queen Elizabeth's birthday is April 21st. In Canada the Queen's Birthday has been conflated with the official holiday of Victoria Day.

In Canada the day went its own way. In 1901 the Parliament of Canada established May 24th (or the 25th if the 24th was a Sunday) as the official holiday. The present timing of Victoria Day was established by an act of Parliament in 1952. The Queen's birthday was celebrated on Victoria Day from 1953 to 1956 by proclamation of the Governor General. In 1957 Victoria Day was permanently set as the Queen's birthday. In the United Kingdom the birthday is celebrated in June (from the June 9th birthday of her father). Once more the Union Jack is to be flown at federal buildings on this day "where physical arrangements permit". The Union Jack is never to take precedence over the Canadian flag.

The whole idea of Victoria Day never sat well in Quebec. In 1918 an alternative holiday, on the same day, the Fete de Dollard, was set up by Lionel Groulx in honour of a 17th century French settler, Dollard des Ormeaux, who died in the defense of a settlement under attack by the Iroquois. Time overtook this symbol of Quebec nationalism, and in 2002 the name was changed to Journee Nationale des Patriotes in honour of the rebels of 1838.

Nowadays few young Canadians feel a tremendous attachment to the British Crown, and even fewer have anything but the vaguest idea of who Queen Victoria was, besides the idea that she was anti-sex. In honour of this fact the May long weekend is known by many other names throughout the country. The most charming is 'May Two Four', in celebration of that which replaced the beaver as Canada's national symbol- the 24 pack of beer. Victoria may not have been as "Victorian" as is presumed. In 1997 a movie called 'Mrs Brown' was made concerning her possible affair with her Scottish servant John Brown. This was a matter of much speculation while she was alive and remains controversial to this day. When Victoria was buried two momentos were buried with her; one of Prince Albert's dressing gowns and a lock of John Brown's hair.

Many other things happened on this day. May 21st was the first day of the institution of daylight savings time in the UK, as a wartime power saving measure. The UK was proceeded in this by Germany, and the US came around when it entered the war, and passed daylight savings time legislation in 1918. This is also the feast day of Constantine the Great (also known as Constantine the Sleezy to those who know his history) in the Eastern Orthodox church. This is also the day in 1639 when Tommaso Campanella, author of the utopian novel 'The City of the Sun' died.His novel describes a theocratic utopia where goods are held in common. In 1871 the French government invaded the Paris Commune on this day and began the 'Bloody Week' of mass executions of Communards, leaving up to 30,000 dead. American anarchist Hutchins Hapgood was born on this day in Chicago in 1869. The French anarchist Emile Henri was executed on this day in 1894. The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton on may 21st in 1881. On May 21st, 1916 the Magon brothers, heroes of the Mexican Revolution, went on trial in the USA on various trumped up charges. In 1927 on this day Charles Lingberg touched down in France, becoming the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. The feat is repeated on this day in 1932 when Amelia Earhart lands in Derry, Northern Ireland, to become the first woman to do likewise. On this day in 1945 Humphrey Bogart married actress Lauren Bacall. In 1956 at Bikini Atoll on this day the first air detonation of an hydrogen bomb is carried out. Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame was born on this day in 1917 as was Andrei Sakharov, Russian physicist and dissident in 1921.


Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Thanks for the history lesson! I noticed Victoria Day on my Outlook calendar this afternoon and was going to Google it. You have delivered the info well.

Anonymous said...

This is a public holiday in here Bermuda as well.

After Empire Day & Commonweath Day, it became Heritage Day and is now called Bermuda Day.

A few years ago the govt tried to change it to the closest Monday to May 24th but the people were so attached to the 24th that they changed it back the following year.

It is the day many people go for their first swim of the year, there is Bermuda Fitted dinghy racing and a big parade in Hamilton (main town).

We also have the Queen's Birthday holiday, for QE2.

Anonymous said...