Victoria Day: The Holiday’s Origins & Its Questionable Future

This article delves into why and how Victoria Day came to be in Canada, and examines the colonial roots of the holiday, debating the question as to if Victoria Day should continue to be celebrated.

Written by: Thomas Tinmouth

For many Canadians, when they think of Victoria Day, they think of a conveniently placed long weekend used to enjoy the incoming summer weather to catch up on some yard work, sip craft beers, and maybe even watch some fireworks. This long weekend is also referred to by many as “May-two-four”, as the holiday always falls on the second last weekend in May, which happens to be around May 24th. So, we know that there’s no work or school on Monday, gatherings with family and friends, possibly some drinking, and setting off fireworks; but what is it that we are actually celebrating? The answer goes back to the 1800s, a time when Canada was in its infancy, and British Influence still played a major role in our society. 

Figure 1: Queen Victoria in 1859, Painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

In 1845 Victoria Day was officially declared a holiday in Canada to celebrate the long-standing monarch Queen Victoria, who was born on May 24th, 1819. At this time there was no extra day off, rather the weekend was rung in by cannon salutes, sporting events, parades, and fireworks. Queen Victoria served as Monarch for 63 years, and it wasn’t until 1901 when she passed away that the Canadian government decided Victoria day should be a statutory holiday, creating the first long weekend in spring. Upon becoming queen in 1837, there was major animosity in Canada as fighting between two rebellious colonies, Upper and Lower Canada raved on.

When the fighting subdued, Queen Victoria who was determined to begin her reign in peace provided amnesties to both rebellious colonies. In 1841, under the rule of Queen Victoria, the upper and lower colonies were united creating The United Province of Canada, but not yet a country to itself with no identified responsible government. It wasn’t until 1876 when Queen Victoria appointed 72 senators and granted royal assent to the British North America Act that the Dominion of Canada was officially born.

Figure 2: Extra information on Victoria Day in Canada.

Victoria Day brings up another important question, should these roots of colonialism be a day of celebration in Canada after so many years? Should this holiday linked to colonialism even be celebrated? Throughout Queen Victoria’s reign she never actually stepped foot into Canada which seemed odd since she had such a large cultural influence in the country, even choosing Ottawa to be Canada’s capital. On one hand, you can point to this holiday as the one time a year when Canadians are reminded of the influence that the Crown had on many of the core features that we enjoy in Canada to this day.

On the other hand, Canada has been fully independent for many years now and emerged as a global power, begging the question, is it still necessary to celebrate these roots? Not only is there the argument of time going by, but also the question of if celebrating a holiday rooted in Colonialism is morally right. It is important to understand that Canada would not be what it is today without the Crown’s influence, but in the same breath, we must remember when they got here this was not uninhabited land. For many, this day is not only a reminder of what was gained but also of what was lost. As European countries discovered more land around the world, they set their claim by taking and forcing their societal norms on these new areas. Land and culture were taken away from Indigenous peoples in Canada through this colonization. Traditions and a way of life were changed by this influence forever. Wrongs were committed that to this day have never, and will never be able to be restored.

Whether for or against its celebration, the Victoria Day holiday is once again upon us.  Remember to follow COVID-19 guidelines to keep you, and those around you safe. If you choose to use fireworks, be aware of the human and environmental impacts, and be sure to dispose of the waste properly. 

Though this holiday Monday is a time to relax and enjoy the transition into summer, it is important to remember what we are celebrating. The British role in Canadian affairs has been a hot topic recently, once again raising the question of Victoria Day’s significance. This Monday let’s give thanks for great Country Canada has grown into, but also remember the origins of this holiday. The loss experienced by many across Canada is a sad truth that is rooted in the depths of this spring-long weekend.

To learn more about our holidays and their history, see here.

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