SASKATCHEWAN'S LARGEST INDEPENDENTLY-OWNED COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER
Home



 



Did Queen Victoria invent the long weekend?

Well, the sunny Victoria Day May Two-Four long weekend arrived on schedule.
Yeah, I know the fire ban put a damper on campfires; and the water in your favourite lake is still freezing because the ice finally disappeared just two weeks ago.
But our short prairie summer is officially here. Enjoy it while you can.
The May Two-Four weekend is, of course, named after that quintessentially Canadian cultural icon, the 24-can case of beer.
Just kidding.
Victoria Day is actually named in honour of the venerable Alexandrina Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (and later her Imperial Majesty the Empress of India), from June 20, 1837 until her death on January 22, 1901. She held the record as longest serving British monarch (63 years, 216 days); right up until September 8, 2015, when Queen Elizabeth II took over the title (66 years and counting…).
Alexandrina Victoria, born May 24, 1819, was a larger-than-life historical figure who ruled a global empire, but she was actually only 5 feet tall.
She was only 18 years old when she ascended to the Throne of England. At the time of her birth she was actually a long-shot to become queen, since she had a father and three uncles who were next-in-line for succession after her grandfather, King George III.
But all four of George III’s sons, including her father, Prince Edward, and her uncle, King WIlliam IV, conveniently died, leaving no legitimate male heirs. So she got the nod.
She had been raised by her German-born mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Cobourg-Saalfield. Despite being born in England, Victoria only spoke German up until the age of three.
Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg and Gotha, in 1840. Because she was queen, she had to propose to him. The couple had nine children, who all married into royal families across Europe. That earned Victoria the informal title of “Grandmother of Europe.”
Victoria survived at least six serious assassination attempts: in 1840, 1849, 1850, and 1882.
It’s actually kind of odd that Canada is the only country in the world to celebrate Victoria Day.
Well, okay. It’s also celebrated in Scotland, but only in its capital city, Edinburgh.
Considering Scotland is always growling about breaking away from its southern neighbour, it’s nice to know at least some of those gruff Scots still harbour a sentimental affection for the teetotalling monarch who invented the long weekend.
Victoria Day was declared a national holiday in Canada in 1845, 22 years before Confederation. The Province of Canada, as it was then known, was the first colony in the global British Empire to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday.
At that time, Canadians were more British than the Brits. We even named two provincial capital cities after her: Victoria, BC and Regina, Saskatchewan. (Prince Albert, Saskatchewan is named after her husband.)
When Queen Victoria passed away in 1901, the Canadian Parliament felt the need to mark the occasion somehow, so they officially named May 24 as “Empire Day,” but that name kind of withered away over the years as the sun gradually set on the crumbling British Empire over which Victoria ruled so long.
Regardless of its name, the holiday always fell on May 24, (unless it was a Sunday, in which case the holiday was held on May 25, a Monday).
In 1953, the federal government made the decision to formally adopt the name “Victoria Day” and to celebrate it on the Monday prior to May 25.
In Canada, we still call Victoria Day the Queen’s Birthday, even though Queen Elizabeth II’s real birthday is April 21, because the federal government, back in 1957, passed a law declaring Victoria Day the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.
The national holiday applies across the country, except, of course, in Quebec, which unlike the Scots, still harbour a grudge against long weekends named after English monarchs.
In Quebec, it’s called “Journee nationale des patriotes.” As with all things French, why use two words when four is more pompous-sounding.
And oh, yeah, it also doesn’t apply in Nova Scotia. Which is odd, since Nova Scotia prides itself on its Scottish heritage, and if a holiday is good enough for dour old Edinburgh, Scotland, it should hardly get the cold shoulder on this side of the Atlantic.

Navigation