Victoria Day (aka May Two-Four) is a pretty Canadian thing — a long weekend, a cottage opening, a tent pitched, a case of beer. So how did Canada gain this wonderful and necessary long weekend declaring the end of winter and the opening of summer patios and bbq?
Queen Victoria reigned the British Empire from the age of 18 in 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901, a reign lasting 64 years, the longest of any British monarch. (Although Queen Elizabeth II is closing in with 63 years and counting. See Jubilee.)
She started her reign as Empress before the advent of photography in 1838 and before the birth of the country of Canada in 1867. And when Queen Victoria died almost 64 years later, Canada was already 33 years old and Canadian soldiers were fighting her colonial war against the Boers in South Africa.
At the Empire's height, Victoria ruled 20% of the earth's surface which was inhabited by 25% of the world's population. At the time, indeed "the sun never set on the British Empire."
Queen Victoria's birthday had been a public holiday celebrated in the British colony called the Province of Canada since 1845, long before that colony joined two others in 1867 to form Canada. In the new confederation, the public holiday was always celebrated on Victoria's actual birth day – the 24th of May – unless that day fell on a Sunday, in which case, back in the days of piety, it was celebrated on Monday the 25th. After Victoria's death, the Parliament of Canada declared the day a national holiday called Victoria Day.
And so it continued for over five decades – as moving target on any day of the week – until 1952, when an amendment to the Statutes of Canada was passed by Parliament that established Victoria Day as always being the first Monday before the 25th of May, thus guaranteeing Canadians a long weekend.
Victoria Day 1897 Diamond Jubilee (60 years) Photo
This historic photo depicts the opening of Parc Victoria by Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in Quebec City on Victoria Day, 24 May 1897. (In 1897, May 24th was actually a Monday.) It was the year of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne – which was being celebrated across the Canada.
Library & Archives Canada caption: Présentation de Sir W. Laurier au Parc Victor (sic) sur la journée de Victoria. Québec, Québec. (Photographer: Jules-Ernest Livernois; Library and Archives Canada a024105)
In the late 19th century, Quebec City Mayor Simon-Napoléon Parent wanted to provide a green space for the working families of Saint-Roch and Saint-Sauveur. In 1896, Québec City established Parc Parent, named after the mayor himself. The area was crisscrossed with narrow paths that allowed visitors to enjoy thousands of flowers. As the opening of the park was scheduled for 1897, the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, Mayor Parent requested authorization from the governor-general to adopt the name "Parc Victoria".
More than 20,000 people attended this inauguration on 24th May 1897, including the Prime Minister. Laurier is probably the central figure with top hat on the 2nd floor to the right of Queen Victoria's portrait. (More detail photo below.) Laurier had not been knighted yet at the time of this photo so his label as "Sir" in the LAC caption is incorrect. The building featured a restaurant and observation tower.
Photo Detail: Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, a month before knighthood, is probably the central figure in the top hat, during the opening ceremony of Parc Victoria in Quebec City on Monday, 24 May 1897.
At the time of this photo, Wilfrid Laurier had recently become Prime Minister of Canada when he led the federal Liberal Party to victory in the 1896 election. He remained prime minister until the party's defeat in the 1911 election. Shortly after this park's inauguration ceremony, Wilfrid Laurier and his wife Zoé travelled to London for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations held from 20-22 June 1897. The festivities resonated throughout the United Kingdom and British Empire, including exuberant celebrations in Canada and Newfoundland.
It was during these London ceremonies that Wilfrid Laurier would be knighted by the Queen, much against his wishes.
Photo Detail: Soldiers watch Laurier from Parc Victoria's observation tower. It is uncertain what regiment they are from in this photo, but Quebec City had a large artillery militia garrison.
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