It is a glorious long weekend for us Canadians, formally known as Victoria Day weekend, or affectionately referred to as May 2-4 by many. The holiday was initially established to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday, in 1845, 27 years before the official birth of Canada as a nation. It is therefore considered a distinctly Canadian holiday and the unofficial welcoming of summer. For that reason I would like to focus my thoughts today on a little Canadian history.
One of the reasons I consider this a uniquely Canadian holiday is because of how different the modern sentiment of the holiday is when considered in contrast to the name. What comes to mind when I think of the holiday is letting loose and often celebrating the great outdoors. Whether that means exiting the city to go camping or cottaging, going on a picnic, having a barbecue with wobblypops and spritzers, or lighting up the sky with fireworks, most Canadians are ready to shake off the winter cobwebs and get outside. Little thought of is the second longest reigning monarch who was a fierce supporter of the British Empire, and has been long associated with the famous adage “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Not to mention the connotation of her very name, which brings to mind the notion of austere and inhibited behaviour and sentiment, whether or not that is an accurate portrayal of the time in question (a topic which I will save for some other time).
Interestingly enough, in spite of her support of the British Empire, Victoria was an important figure in the establishment of the separation of Canada from Britain. She strongly endorsed it and was very influential in maintaining a peaceful transition towards our nation’s independence. In fact, loyalty to the crown was one of the few common bonds that the very different provinces shared.
I must reference Quebec here, where the holiday is known as National Patriotes Day, in honour of the leaders of the 1837 Rebellion, such as Louis-Joseph Papineau. It may raise some eyebrows that English Canada celebrates the Queen while French Canada celebrates a rebellion against the Crown. However, if one looked into just a little deeper, one would learn that not only did Victoria favour Canadian independence, as I mentioned earlier, but for her coronation in 1838, an amnesty was granted to the leaders of the rebellion as part of the celebration.
So, if anyone has been able to withstand my indulging our nation’s past and is still reading, I must thank you for your patience and hope it may give a little background into some pretty cool history (at least for this history-loving Canadian!). Now I must bid you adieu and go in search of a cool chardonnay while I watch while my kids wear themselves out in the beauty of the day.
I hope everyone in Canada can take a break today and enjoy some leisure time, maybe even giving a quick thought to the long considered mother of confederation, Queen Victoria.