For many Canadians, the Victoria Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. Commonly known as the May long weekend or May two-four*, it's the first long weekend of the summer. Most people have the day off and spend the weekend opening the cottage and being stuck in traffic. However, there is more to Victoria Day than just beer, barbeques, and fireworks.
Each year, Victoria Day usually occurs the Monday on or before May 25th. This day celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria and, marks the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Victoria, the longest reiging monarch in British history, was born on May 24th, 1819. She came to the throne in 1837, as a vivacious 18 year old and died in January 1901, at the age of 81, elderly, remote and venerated.
The Sovereign's birthday has been celebrated in Canada since the reign of Queen Victoria. But it wasn't until 1845, that the Legislature of the Province of Canada declared her birthday a holiday. After Confederation, Queen Victoria's birthday was celebrated on May 24th, unless the day was a Sunday, then it was held on May 25th.
After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, an Act was passed by the Parliament of Canada establishing a legal holiday on May 24 in each year, under the name Victoria Day. An amendment to the Statutes of Canada in 1952 established the celebration of Victoria Day on the Monday preceding May 25.
The birthdays of subsequent sovereigns have been officially marked on different days. Queen Victoria's successor, Edward VII's birthday, was celebrated on Victoria Day, despite his natural birthdate being in November. From the reign of King George V to the present Queen, Canada celebrated the sovereign's birthday in June, until 1952. From 1953 to 1956, the Queen's birthday was celebrated in Canada on Victoria Day, by proclamation of the Governor General, with Her Majesty's approval. In 1957, Victoria Day was permanently appointed as the Queen's birthday in Canada.
So, while you're sitting by the lake at your cottage, stuck in traffic on the highway, or watching a fireworks display, raise a cheer to Her Majesty!
© Marilyn Braun 2007
*Two-four is Canadian slang for a case of 24 bottles of beer.
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