Victoria Day is a public holiday celebrated every year on the Monday before May 25th, giving Canadians a long May weekend. Some Canadians refer to it as the May Two-Four weekend. It is a uniquely Canadian celebration, being celebrated nowhere else in the world.
As a public holiday, some government buildings and other services and businesses might be closed. This will depend on your province, but in some areas shops and marts will also be closed.
The meaning of Victoria Day is to celebrate our British heritage and the life of Queen Victoria who ruled the British Empire between 1837 and 1901. It's also a great opportunity to celebrate being Canadian with events and activities taking place across the country. In Québec, the day is known as Fête de Dollard or National Patriots Day, and so chooses to celebrate other aspects of Canadian history other than historic British involvement.
The Origins of Victoria Day
Victoria Day was first celebrated in 1845, when the parliament of Canada declared May 24th as a public holiday in honor of Queen Victoria's birthday. The holiday was later adopted by all Canadian provinces and territories and became a federal statutory holiday in 1901, the year of Queen Victoria's death.
Changing the date
Victoria Day was celebrated on May 24 every year until 1952. The only exceptions were when May 24 landed on a Sunday, in those cases Victoria Day was celebrated on the following Sunday instead, so as to not disturb church services. In 1952 however, this changed when prime minister Louis St. Laurent and his party chose to set the date as the Monday preceding May 25, and in this way, a long weekend was always guaranteed.
Bread and Cheese Day
While most Canadians refer to this day by its most common name, Victoria Day, if you live on the Six Nations reserve you may give this date a different name.
During the 1860s Queen Victoria was concerned about her allies who lived on the Six Nations reserve. For that reason, she sent money to the people so they could buy bread and cheese and have something to eat on her birthday. For this reason, the day was given the name Bread and Cheese Day and has continued to be celebrated.
Why Queen Victoria?
- She was known as the “Mother of Confederation.” for her role in granting royal ascent to the British North America Act (the Constitution Act), combining Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into the dominion of Canada
- she was a long-reigning monarch of the United Kingdom during a period of great political and social change in Canada.
- Many saw her as a symbol of stability and continuity in a rapidly changing world.
- Her commitment to public service and her personal values of duty and responsibility were seen as virtues by many.
But above all, the celebration provided us with a federal statutory holiday, giving us time to come together and celebrate our shared history and culture.
Victoria Day in 1845
In the early years of celebrations, Canadians took part in very traditional British activities such as having afternoon tea and playing cricket. Other traditional forms of entertainment included hosting pageants about the British Empire, the life of Queen Victoria, and Canada. Firework displays were also often featured.
How We Celebrate now
For many people now the May Two-Four weekend heralds the start of Summer, and so it is celebrated often with summer activities such as picnics and hikes in the countryside. What activities you can take part in will, of course, be affected by where you live in Canada.
Vancouver - There is always a wide variety of entertainment to celebrate Victoria Day in Vancouver, they usually have a British Car Show at VanDusen Garden where you can fix your eyes on some of the most beautiful vehicles of yesteryears. Other events include the Cloverdale Rodeo and the Country Fair which also provides lots of family entertainment over the long May weekend.
Toronto - With no shortage of fireworks Toronto usually celebrates Victoria Day with a bang. Fireworks are usually set off in Ashbridges Bay Park, but Canada’s Wonderland also puts on fireworks, with fireworks also being lit over Niagara falls.
Montreal - Within Québec, the day is known as Fête de Dollard, also National Patriots Day. It is celebrated in much the same way as Victoria Day, with parades and concerts, speeches, and reenactments of famous moments in Canadian history.
Fête de Dollard
Fête de Dollard is named after Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, a garrison commander in Ville-Marie (Montreal). He is remembered for his defense of the colony of New France against the North American Indian tribes and in particular the Iroquois, in 1660.
Whether we celebrate the day as Fête de Dollard, National Patriots Day, or Victoria Day the May Two-Four weekend provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate being Canadian. For us to enjoy the weather, the great outdoors, and good company as we celebrate our heritage together.