Victoria Day: Celebrating Queens & Patriots
But why do we celebrate? Queen Victoria, born May 24, 1819, became the longest reigning monarch in British history. (Or she was, until September 2015, when her great-great granddaughter Elizabeth surpassed her.) She was Queen of Canada, but her subjects here began celebrating her birthday long before Canada was a nation. The first Victoria Day was proclaimed a holiday in Canada West (now Ontario) in 1845. It became a national holiday in the late nineteenth century, combining with Empire Day to celebrate British heritage in Canada.
From Diamond Jubilee Celebration,1897,Toronto Reference Library
As Queen and Empress, Victoria presided over Canada and the vast British Empire that grew during her reign. She gave her name to cities, buildings, monuments and more importantly, to an era--one known for economic expansion, scientific achievement and emotional and sexual repression.
If we think of her today, it's the image of an aging, rather dumpy woman draped in lace that we remember. But she was once the young and vibrant hope of a nation, and her life encompassed as much breathtaking change as our own time.
Today, Victoria Day or Fête de la Reine, is a national holiday throughout Canada, celebrating both Victoria's birthday and the birthday of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. (No matter that her actual birth date is April 26). Traditionally the holiday includes fireworks, picnics and concerts. More recently it also includes opening up the cottage, planting the garden and partying hard, preferably out of doors.
The celebration of the British monarch, needless to say, has never been very popular in Quebec. For many years the holiday was unofficially known as Fête de Dollard, in honour of an early French colonist. But in 2003 it officially became the Journée nationale des patriotes or National Patriot's Day, to celebrate the English and French patriots who fought the British colonial power in Lower Canada in 1837.
A neat trick, turning a holiday celebrating a colonial monarch into a holiday celebrating the rebels who fought against that same monarch's empire. Only in Canada. (In case you've forgotten, the rebels lost.)