The word holiday derives from the Old English halig daeg, meaning holy day. This was a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event or person, often of religious significance. In 1869 the verb holiday referred to taking or spending a vacation time.
Around the Middle English period, holiday took on a new meaning as "a day when commoners were exempt from labour". People often feasted on a flatfish called butte. Today's halibut fish got its name from halig and butte.
The concept of a civic holiday began in London, Ontario in 1856 as a day to honour John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. The day was recognized as a “civic” holiday in reference to the various municipalities that began to recognize it. Toronto started to observe the holiday in 1861, Winnipeg in 1874, and gradually many other areas across Canada encouraged a day off in early August to foster a spirit of community among residents.
Today the first Monday in August is a provincial statutory holiday in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and New Brunswick. All three provinces recognize the day with their provincial name. It is not a statutory holiday in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Ontario, which means businesses do not have to give a paid holiday to workers, although the day is given special significance in the province, and many take a holiday. To recognize and celebrate the various cultural heritages in Alberta, the first Monday in August is known as Heritage Day. The Province of Manitoba marked the first Terry Fox Day on August 3, 2015. Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg in 1958. In Nova Scotia the day is called Natal Day, as a celebration of the province’s history and founding of the Halifax-Dartmouth area.
Many Ontario communities designate the first Monday in August as a time to honour a noteworthy local person or organization, though often referred to as the Civic Holiday Weekend. Joseph Brant Day is observed in Brantford to acknowledge Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, who remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution. In Guelph, John Galt is remembered as the founder of the city. McLaughlin Day is celebrated in Oshawa to commemorate Robert McLaughlin, who brought General Motors to Oshawa. Colonel By Day honours Colonel John By who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal and founded Bytown, later Ottawa. Sarnia remembers Alexander Mackenzie, the second Prime Minister of Canada (1873-1878), who is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Sarnia.
In 1975, Gordon T. Snyder, Minister of Labour for the Province of Saskatchewan said, “The Bill before you is an additional statutory holiday, the first Monday in August which shall be known as Saskatchewan Day. . . . Hopefully it will also inspire us to pause, Mr. Speaker, and reflect upon our own good fortune to share in that peaceful prosperous land that we call Saskatchewan.” So, later that year the people and businesses celebrated Saskatchewan Day on Monday, August 4th, a new statutory holiday in the province. Before 1975, the first Monday in August was observed as a holiday by many businesses but with this bill it was mandated as a paid holiday, with public pay rules applying in Saskatchewan.
Some regions of Canada do not recognize the first Monday in August but observe a summer holiday for other reasons. Quebec observes St. Jean Baptiste Day on June 24th each year. Discovery Day is celebrated in Yukon on the third Monday in August to remember the discovery of gold in 1896 and the subsequent Klondike Gold Rush. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Shops Closing Act sets a civic holiday for the Royal St. John’s Regatta in early August.
I hope you spent some time over the past long weekend to reflect on the history of Saskatchewan, realizing both the good things and the regretful things of our past. We need not erase history but learn from it. This is sage advice for any holiday time.
Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com. He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.
John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to firstname.lastname@example.org . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.