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Five for Friday: Victoria Day weekend

Five facts about Queen Victoria and the May long weekend
victoria day illustration shutterstock

Monday is Victoria Day. The May long weekend is the unofficial start of the summer. This week, we are focusing on Queen Victoria and everything related to the annual celebration. 

Who was Queen Victoria?

Queen Victoria ruled from June 20, 1837 until her death on January 22, 1901. She was just 18 years old when she assumed the throne. Victoria reigned as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for 63 years and seven months. She had nine children, several of whom went on to marry into royal families across Europe. Because of this, Queen Victoria is referred to as “the grandmother of Europe.”

Over the course of her reign, she survived no less than six assassination attempts.

With her royal assent, Canada became a country in 1867. 

Black and White

After her husband Albert died, Queen Victoria went into a state of mourning. She dressed only in black clothes for the last 40 years of her life. She also avoided public appearances. Queen Victoria began to be known as the “widow of Windsor.”

Although she is known for wearing black, Queen Victoria is credited as starting the tradition of brides wearing white wedding dresses. Although she was not the first royal to wear white on her wedding day, it does appear as though this is where the custom began. Prior to this, brides simply wore their best dress. Queen Victoria chose white because the colour would highlight the lace on her gown. She did ask that no one else wear white to the wedding.

What’s in a Name?

In a 2015 survey nearly half of respondents said they did not know why Canada celebrates Victoria Day. Approximately 12 per cent of respondents believed it was meant to mark Memorial Day in the U.S., which is held around the same time. A further 36 per cent said they simply did not know. It probably doesn’t help that some people refer to the holiday as “May Long Weekend,” or “May Two-Four,” as opposed to the holiday’s proper name.

As of 2003, Quebec celebrates National Patriots’ Day instead. The day was created to “underline the importance of the struggle of the patriots of 1837— 1838 for the national recognition of our people, for its political liberty and to obtain a democratic system of government.” Prior to this, the May holiday was known as Fete de Dollard. This was a celebration of Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, a hero of New France.

A number of places have been named after Queen Victoria, including Victoriaville, Quebec, Queen’s University in Kingston, and, obviously, Victoria, B.C. Of course, Regina is the “Queen City” and it too was named after Queen Victoria.

A Canadian Holiday

Canada’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday predates the country itself; May 24 has been a holiday in Canada since 1845. It became a federal public holiday in 1901. Eventually, the date changed somewhat; since 1952 Victoria Day has been celebrated on the Monday before May 24. 

Did you know that Canada is not the only country that recognizes Victoria Day? Some parts of Scotland also celebrate.

In Great Britain it was celebrated as Empire Day but in 1958 it was renamed as Commonwealth Day. By 1977, Commonwealth Day was moved to March.=

Victoria Day Events

Significant events that have fallen on Victoria Day weekend include the E.coli outbreak in Walkerton, ON in 2000 and the Victoria steamboat disaster of 1881. The latter resulted in the deaths of 182 people.

Of course, many people will go camping or head to the lake this weekend. If you do, don’t forget that alcohol and cannabis is banned in campgrounds. Lots of other events are held across the country during the long weekend. For example, there is the Castrol Victoria Day Speedfest race in Bowman, ON; Paddlefest, a four-day outdoor festival in New Brunswick; Kaslo May Days, a three-day festival in B.C. that has been running every May since 1892; and Upper Canada Village’s annual birthday party for the queen.

Closer to home, you will can take in the opening day barbecue at the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre on Saturday or the grand opening weekend of the T. Rex Gallery at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

Enjoy the long weekend!