About Canada’s May long weekend: Victoria Day
It’s a long weekend in Canada. The “May long”. Monday is Victoria Day. Officially, a day to remember the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born May 24, 1819, and to celebrate the birthday of the current monarch. Unofficially, the weekend marks the start of cottage and camping season, and is sometimes called the May two-four, in recognition of the case of beer taken to the cottage for the weekend, a case containing 24 bottles.
Parts of Scotland celebrate Victoria Day, but it is not celebrated in the rest of Great Britain. When our English friends visited us in Canada, they were surprised at how much recognition this country gives to Queen Victoria. Until they commented on it, I hadn’t realized how many places and things were named after her. England officially celebrates the current Queen’s birthday in June, although her actual birthday is April 21.
Queen Victoria played an important part in Canada’s history. Her sixty-three year reign as monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland occurred during Canada’s formative years. Many Canadian institutions and organizations trace their roots back to that time. She fostered unity in the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, and has been called the “Mother of Confederation”. She was sitting on the throne when Canada became a country in 1867.
Queen Victoria’s birthday has been celebrated in Canada since 1845, before Canada was a country. After her death in 1901, the Parliament of Canada established May 24 as a legal holiday. In a year when the twenty-fourth of May fell on a Sunday, the holiday was observed on the following Monday.
Perhaps some will recall your parents or grandparents telling you about the following traditional ditty:
The twenty-fourth of May
Is the Queen’s birthday;
If they don’t give us a holiday
We’ll all run away.
In 1952, celebration of Victoria Day was moved to the first Monday before May 25, thus ensuring a long weekend every year. From 1901 until the 1950s, timing of the celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday varied, usually on the date of that monarch’s actual birthday. In 1957, the Queen’s birthday was officially moved to Victoria Day.
For many in Canada, the May long weekend has more to do with cottages, camping, and gardening than regal birthdays. It is the unofficial start of the summer season. People open their cottages for the summer. Others look forward to their first camping trip of the season, although in Manitoba you cannot count on the weather being warm enough yet. I remember one May long weekend at rented cottages with a group of friends. We sat outside around the campfire, wearing winter parkas and watching the ice on the lake.
Others look forward to getting their gardens in. It is often too early in Manitoba for those bedding plants, but seeds can be sown and other yard work done.
Some celebrations across the country include parades and fireworks. For many years, my May long weekend was all about birthday parties. Not the Queen’s. My daughter’s and step-daughter’s. This year, the weather is cool and rainy. Most of my weekend will be spent indoors, with bits of gardening squeezed in between the rain.
Wishing everyone a happy May long.