Monday, May 23, 2011

a day for the great victorian queen?

I glanced over at my calendar this morning and discovered an odd thing listed under my to-do-list: today is Victoria Day in Canada.

Since I am not Canadian, I had to ask myself:

What is Victoria Day? 

I apologize to any Canadians or British Commonwealth citizens who are already familiar with this holiday.  And I apologize to everyone else for using Wikipedia as a source.  According to that site, Victoria Day is the day that Canada celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria of England and the current reigning monarch's birthday.

image source: Wikipedia
It falls around Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24, and sort of acts like a mix of the U.S.'s President's Day/ Memorial Day/Independence Day in that it's a nationally recognized holiday in which banks and governmental entities are closed, flags are flown, and parades and fireworks given.  Like Memorial Day, it is also a marker of the start of the summer vacation season.   

Now my question is: Why call it Victoria Day?  Why not call it "Monarch Day," or something more relevant to the current reigning monarch, rather than a monarch who has been dead for over 100 years?

This is where Wikipedia comes in very handy.

Before Queen Victoria's reign it was common to celebrate the reigning monarch's birthday.  Since Queen Victoria was the longest ruling monarch in English history, people got used to celebrations on May 24.  Queen Victoria was also beloved due to the fact that she gave royal assent to the formulation of the Canadian Confederation, which made Canada a self-governing colony of the British Empire.  This status, which exists to this day, means that while Britain and the monarchy are recognized as part of the government (a royal scepter is kept in legislative houses to remind politicians of the monarch's presence) the Canadians can determine their own domestic and foreign policies for the most part and act relatively independent from England. 

According to Wikipedia, when Victoria died 1901, her birthday remained a day of celebration for the entire Commonwealth, but a special date of remembrance for the Canadians:

May 24 was by imperial decree made Empire Day throughout the British Empire, while, in Canada, it became officially known as Victoria Day, a date to remember the late queen, who was deemed the "Mother of Confederation".[4]
The celebration of monarchs' birthdays, however, was a rather confused affair for half a century until it was finally merged with Empire Day:
Over the ensuing decades, the official date in Canada of the reigning sovereign's birthday changed through various royal proclamations: for Edward VII it continued by yearly proclamation to be observed on May 24, but was June 3 for George V, June 23 for Edward VIII (their actual birthdays), and various days between May 20 and June 14 through George VI's reign as king of Canada. The first official birthday of Elizabeth II, whose actual birthday is April 21,[5] was the last to be celebrated in June; the haphazard format was abandoned in 1952, when the Governor-General-in-Council moved Empire Day to the Monday before May 25, and Elizabeth's official birthday in Canada was by regular vice-regal proclamations made to fall on this same date every year between 1953 and 1957, when the link was made permanent.[1] The following year, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day and in 1977 it was moved to the second Monday in March, leaving the Monday before May 24 solely as Victoria Day.
So Canadians, enjoy your self-governance while remembering the 19th century queen who made it possible.


  1. Thanks for posting this informative article about Victoria Day here in Canada. I live near the provincial legislative buildings for my area, and at noon on Victoria Day they fire a 21 gun salute in her honour. Hope your Memorial Day weekend next week is a fab one.

  2. @ Ms. Lou- I never knew of the existence of Victoria Day until yesterday, and so I am glad that my research was actually informative rather than erroneous. Thank you. I hope you had a great Victoria Day as well.