“The 24th of May is the Queen's birthday
If we don't get a holiday, we'll all run away!”
Canadians observe Victoria Day on May 24th or on the preceding Monday. For most of us, the arrival of this day means we can start planting our vegetable and flower gardens and put the long winter behind us. For the majority of Canadians, it also means a welcome long weekend. But how did Victoria Day come about, and why do we celebrate it?
This holiday is named after the British monarch who gave royal assent to Confederation. Queen Victoria, who reigned over Great Britain, was born on May 24, 1819. She enjoyed the longest reign in British history, ascending the throne in 1837 and ruling until 1901—a period of over 62 years!
The Parliament of Canada first declared her birthday a holiday in 1845, well before Confederation! The May 24th celebration was a popular one—if you had been a resident of Canada West (Ontario) in 1854, you might have joined a crowd of thousands that gathered in front of Government House in Toronto to shout a cheer to the Queen.
In 1901, the year of Victoria's death, the holiday officially became known as Victoria Day. Since that time, Victoria Day has commemorated two royal birthdays: the birthday of Queen Victoria and that of the current monarch.
May 24th is a statutory holiday in all Canadian territories and in seven out of ten provinces. (In Quebec, this date is celebrated as La Journée nationale des Patriotes, or National Patriots' Day, in memory of Anglophone and Francophone activists who fought for democratic government in 19th-century Quebec.)
What traditions are upheld on Victoria Day? Well, if you're enjoying a downtown stroll at noon in the nation's capital or in any provincial capital, you'll hear the firing of a 21-gun salute. You'll also see the Royal Union flag (the “Union Jack”) flying alongside the National Flag of Canada, the “Maple Leaf,” from sunrise to sunset at federal buildings and properties.
If you're in downtown Victoria, British Columbia—a city named for the Queen—you may join over 120,000 spectators watching marching bands, floats and clowns performing during the annual Victoria Day Parade.
Finally, you might be one of many Canadians ooohing and aaahing over dazzling firework displays that light up the evening sky of most Canadian cities. You might even choose to set off your own firecrackers and sparklers.
The Victoria Day celebration is also known by many other names. Some refer to it as the May Two-Four Weekend, the May long weekend (or just the May Long), the Victoria Day weekend and even Firecracker Day.
But no matter what you call it, have fun celebrating this patriotic Canadian holiday!