Victoria Day

Everyday there is a reason to celebrate the life we live. Celebrating the life of a Queen is always fitting. Today I tip my hat to my friends north or our border in Canada celebrating Victoria Day…

Victoria Day (French: Fête de la Reine, or “Celebration of the Queen”) is a federal Canadian public holiday celebrated on the last Monday preceding May 25, in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. As such, it is the Monday between the 18th to the 24th inclusive, and thus is always the penultimate Monday of May. The date is simultaneously that on which the current Canadian sovereign’s official birthday is recognized. It is sometimes informally considered the beginning of the summer season in Canada.

Historically the birthday of Queen Victoria was a day for celebration in Canada long before Confederation, with the first legislation regarding the event being in 1845 passed by the parliament of the Province of Canada to officially recognize May 24 as the Queen’s birthday. It was noted that on that date in 1854, the 35th birthday of Queen Victoria, some 5,000 residents of Canada West gathered in front of Government House (near present-day King and Simcoe Streets in Toronto) to “give cheers to their queen”. An example of a typical 19th century celebration of the Queen’s birthday took place on May 24, 1866, in Omemee, also in Canada West: the town mounted a day-long fête to mark the occasion, including a gun salute at midnight, pre-dawn serenades, picnics, athletic competitions, a display of illuminations, and a torch-light procession; such events were common around the colony and, by the 1890s, the day had become a “patriotic holiday”.

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, May 24 was made by law to be known as Victoria Day, a date to remember the late queen, who was deemed the “Mother of Confederation”, and, in 1904, the same date was by imperial decree made Empire Daythroughout the British Empire. Over the ensuing decades, the official date in Canada of the reigning sovereign’s birthday changed through various royal proclamations until the haphazard format was abandoned in 1952. That year, both Empire Day and Victoria Day were, by order-in-council and statutory amendment, respectively, moved to the Monday before May 25 and the monarch’s official birthday in Canada was by regular viceregal proclamations made to fall on this same date every year between 1953 and January 31, 1957, when the link was made permanent by royal proclamation. 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 25 only as both Victoria Day and the Queen’s Birthday.

Victoria Day celebrations were marred by tragedy twice: In 1881, the passenger ferry Victoria overturned in the Thames River, near London, Ontario. The boat departed in the evening with 600 to 800 people on board—three times the allowable passenger capacity—and capsized part way across the river, drowning some 182 individuals, including a large number of children who had been with their families for Victoria Day picnics at Springbank Park. The event came to be known as the Victoria Day disaster. Then, on May 26, 1896, the Point Ellice Bridge disasteroccurred in Victoria, British Columbia, when a bridge collapsed under the weight of a streetcaroverloaded with passengers on their way to attend Victoria Day celebrations.

In 2013, a group of prominent Canadian actors, authors, and politicians sent a petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, requesting that the holiday be renamed Victoria and First Peoples Day.

Chris Edwards Napa 2018

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