Victoria Day: A Boomer Memory

Today is Victoria Day in Canada. Celebrated only in English Canada and Scotland, and not in the rest of the UK, this holiday has always signified the start of summer.[1]

          Its history goes back to the nineteenth century, commemorating the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born on May 24, 1819. Victoria reigned for just over 63 years. Her birthday was declared a Canadian holiday by the government in 1845. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Canada’s parliament officially named the holiday Victoria Day, and it was decided that it would always be celebrated on the second last Monday in May. In 2021, that’s May 24th.

          When I was a youngster I remember that my Dad would always fly the Union Jack from our house. If the weather were nice, which it often was, we would head to my grandmother’s cottage for the weekend, which we loved because we got to swim in the lake. On the evening of Victoria Day we celebrated with fireworks and sparklers. Unfortunately, I also remember getting my hands burned a few times when I was given a sparkler to wave around, at least until my mother said enough is enough and wisely put an end to that practice. While we continue to celebrate Victoria Day today in English-speaking Canada, and some towns and cities still have firework displays, I think many have forgotten the holiday’s connection to Queen Victoria and our British roots. But for those of us who grew up in the Boomer generation, as well as our parents and grandparents, the links to the British throne were still very strong. Every day, as part of the morning exercises in elementary school, we pledged our allegiance to the Queen (Elizabeth II) and then sang “God Save the Queen”, followed of course by the Lord’s Prayer.    

          While I have fond memories of those days, times have changed. I still admire the present Queen for her devotion to duty, her incredible stamina, and her willingness to embrace people from all cultures. She has been a strong, stable and non-anxious presence in times of crisis and upheaval. However, no longer do schoolchildren in Canada pledge allegiance to the Queen or sing “God Save the Queen”. Instead they sing: “O Canada”. Occasionally they say the Lord’s Prayer, but they also include rituals and spiritual traditions from other religions and from First Nations Spirituality. The vision, even if it is not yet realised, is for a far more inclusive society, one that seeks to tear down the vestiges of colonialism and racism, while promoting right relations with our indigenous siblings, along with justice for all people within our borders and beyond them. Now that’s something to celebrate!

[1] Quebec celebrates Journee nationale des patriots — National Patriots Day.

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