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Victoria Day

Victoria Day
Fête de la Reine
Official name Victoria Day
French: Fête de la Reine
Also called May Long Weekend, May Long, May Two-Four, May Run
Observed by Canadians
Type Historical, cultural, nationalist
Celebrations Fireworks, parades
Date preceding May 25
Frequency annual
Related to Birthday of Queen Victoria

Victoria Day (in French: Fête de la Reine) is a federal Canadian public holiday celebrated on the last Monday before May 25, in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday. The date is also, simultaneously, that on which the current reigning Canadian sovereign's official birthday is recognized. It is sometimes informally considered as marking the beginning of the summer season in Canada.

The holiday has been observed in Canada since at least 1845, originally falling on the sovereign's actual birthday, and continues to be celebrated in various fashions across the country on the fixed date; the holiday has always been a distinctly Canadian observance.[1][2] It is a federal statutory holiday, as well as being a holiday in six of Canada's ten provinces and all three of its territories. In Quebec, the same day was unofficially known as Fête de Dollard from the Quiet Revolution until 2003, when provincial legislation officially created National Patriots' Day on the same date as Victoria Day.


  • History 1
  • Provincial and territorial legislation 2
  • Practice 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The birthday of Queen Victoria was a day for celebration in Canada long before Confederation, with the first legislation regarding the event being in 1845 passed by the parliament of the Province of Canada to officially recognize May 24 as the Queen's birthday.[3][1][2] It was noted that on that date in 1854, the 35th birthday of Queen Victoria, some 5,000 residents of Canada West gathered in front of Government House (near present day King and Simcoe Streets in Toronto) to "give cheers to their queen."[4] An example of a typical 19th century celebration of the Queen's birthday took place on May 24, 1866, in Omemee, also in Canada West: the town mounted a day-long fête to mark the occasion, including a gun salute at midnight, pre-dawn serenades, picnics, athletic competitions, a display of illuminations, and a torch-light procession;[5] such events were common around the colony and,[1] by the 1890s, the day had become a "patriotic holiday".[2]

Victoria Day, 1854; crowds gather outside Government House in Toronto, Canada West (now Ontario)

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, May 24 was made by law to be known as Victoria Day,[3][1] a date to remember the late queen, who was deemed the "Mother of Confederation",[6] and, in 1904, the same date was by imperial decree made Empire Day throughout the British Empire.[1] Over the ensuing decades, the official date in Canada of the reigning sovereign's birthday changed through various royal proclamations until the haphazard format was abandoned in 1952. That year, both Empire Day and Victoria Day were, by order-in-council and statutory amendment, respectively, moved to the Monday before May 25 and the monarch's official birthday in Canada was by regular viceregal proclamations made to fall on this same date every year between 1953 and January 31, 1957,[3][7] when the link was made permanent by royal proclamation.[3][8] The following year, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day and in 1977 it was moved to the second Monday in March, leaving the Monday before May 25 only as both Victoria Day and the Queen's Birthday.

Victoria Day celebrations were marred by tragedy twice: In 1881, the passenger ferry Victoria overturned in the Thames River, near London, Ontario. The boat departed in the evening with 600 to 800 people on board—three times the allowable passenger capacity—and capsized part way across the river, drowning some 182 individuals, including a large number of children who had been with their families for Victoria Day picnics at Springbank Park. The event came to be known as the Victoria Day disaster.[9] Then, on May 26, 1896, the Point Ellice Bridge disaster occurred in Victoria, British Columbia, when a bridge collapsed under the weight of a streetcar overloaded with passengers on their way to attend Victoria Day celebrations.[10]

In 2013, a group of prominent Canadian actors, authors, and politicians sent a petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, requesting that the holiday be renamed Victoria and First Peoples Day.[11][12]

Provincial and territorial legislation

Victoria Day 2010 fireworks display from Ontario Place, Toronto

Most workplaces in Canada are regulated by the provincial or territorial government. Therefore, although Victoria Day is a statutory holiday for federal purposes, whether an employee is entitled to a paid day off generally depends on the province or territory of residence (with the exception of employees in federally regulated workplaces such as banks).

The status of Victoria Day in each of the provinces and territories is as follows: It is a general holiday in Alberta,[13] Manitoba,[14] the Northwest Territories,[15] and Yukon[16] and is a statutory holiday in British Columbia,[17] Ontario,[18] and Saskatchewan.[19] Victoria Day is not a paid public holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador,[20] but is a government holiday;[21] Nova Scotia, where it is also not a designated retail closing day, but is considered a "non-statutory holiday";[22] and Prince Edward Island,[23] although provincial legislation defines "holiday" to include Victoria Day.[24]

In Nunavut[25] and New Brunswick,[26] the date is set as a general holiday (for New Brunswick, a prescribed day of rest on which retail businesses must be closed[27]) to mark the reigning sovereign's official birthday. In Quebec, the province's legislative assembly passed legislation that dedicated National Patriots' Day, commemorating the patriotes of the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837, to be celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25. This replaced the Fête de Dollard, which had been celebrated by Quebecers on Victoria Day since the 1960s and which commemorated Adam Dollard des Ormeaux.


Canada is the only country that commemorates Queen Victoria with an official holiday.[28] Federal government protocol dictates that, on Victoria Day, the Royal Union Flag is to be flown from sunrise to sunset at all federal government buildings— including airports, military bases, and other Crown owned property across the country— where physical arrangements allow (i.e. where a second flag pole exists, as the Royal Union Flag can never displace the national flag).[3]

Before they were abolished in 1968 by the Trudeau government, Royal salutes (21-gun salutes) used to be fired in Ottawa, the provincial capitals, and Montreal and Vancouver not only on the Queen’s Official Birthday, but also on the Queen’s Accession Day (February 6), the Queen’s actual birthday (April 21), the Queen’s Coronation Day (June 2), the Birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh (June 10), and (in those days) the Birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (August 4).[29]

Several cities hold a parade on the holiday, with the most prominent being that which has taken place since 1898 in the monarch's namesake city of Victoria, British Columbia.[30][31] In nearby New Westminster, the Victoria Day weekend is distinguished by the Hyack Anvil Battery Salute, a tradition created during colonial times as a surrogate for a 21-gun salute: Gunpowder is placed between two anvils, the top one upturned, and the charge is ignited, hurling the upper anvil into the air. Other celebrations include an evening fireworks show, such as that held at Ashbridge's Bay Beach in the east end of Toronto, and at Ontario Place, in the same city.

Turkish Canadians march in the 2007 Victoria Day parade in Victoria, British Columbia

Across the country, Victoria Day serves as the unofficial marker of the end of the winter social season, and thus the beginning of the summer social calendar.[1][2][32] Banff, Alberta's Sunshine Village ends its lengthy ski season on Victoria Day and,[33] likewise, it is during this long weekend that many summer businesses—such as parks, outdoor restaurants, bicycle rentals, city tour operators, etc.—will open. Victoria Day is also a mark of the beginning of the cottage season, when cottage owners may reverse the winterization of their property.[34][35] Gardeners in Canada will similarly regard Victoria Day as the beginning of spring,[35] as it falls at a time when one can be fairly certain that frost will not return until the next autumn. There is also a change in fashion: lighter-coloured summer clothing was traditionally worn from Victoria Day through until Labour Day.[36]

The holiday is colloquially known in parts of Canada as May Two-Four;[37][38][39][40][41] a double entendre that refers both to the date around which the holiday falls (May 24) and the Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a "two-four"), a drink popular during the long weekend.[1] The holiday weekend may also be known as May Long or May Run,[40][42][43] and the term Firecracker Day was also employed in Ontario.[44]

A traditional, short song about Victoria Day went as follows: "The twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen's birthday; / If they don't give us a holiday / We'll all run away!"[2] The holiday is referenced in the song "Lakeside Park" by Canadian rock band Rush, from their 1975 album Caress of Steel. The song features the line, "everyone would gather on the 24th of May, sitting in the sand to watch the fireworks display".

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Parker, Alan (May 18, 2012), "Victoria Day: Only in Canada", Maclean's (Rogers Communications), retrieved May 21, 2012 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Victoria Day: responsible rule and firecrackers", The Globe and Mail, May 20, 2012, retrieved May 22, 2012 
  3. ^ a b c d e Department of Canadian Heritage. "Ceremonial and Canadian Symbols Promotion > Victoria Day > Sovereign's Birthday". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved May 12, 2009. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Ontario Genealogy Historical Newspaper Reading Collection – Omemee > Omemee Victoria Day Celebrations – 1866". Ontario and Upper Canada Genealogy and History. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  6. ^ Bousfield, Arthur; Toffoli, Garry (1991). Royal Observations. Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd. p. 10.  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Elizabeth II (October 11, 1957), Proclaimed for Celebration of Queen's Birthday (PDF), Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved May 24, 2011 
  9. ^ "The Victoria Day Disaster". London and Middlesex Historical Society. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  10. ^ Francis, Daniel, ed. (2000) [1999]. Encyclopedia of British Columbia. Harbour Publishing. p. 562.  
  11. ^ Davidson, Terry (May 19, 2013). "Group wants Victoria Day name change". Sarnia Observer. Retrieved May 19, 2013. 
  12. ^ Shingler, Benjamin (May 19, 2013). "Victoria Day: Prominent Canadians back petition to rename holiday". National Post. Retrieved May 20, 2013. 
  13. ^ "General Holidays & General Holiday Pay > Victoria Day". Government of Alberta Human Services. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Fact Sheet: General Holidays". Government of Manitoba Employment Standards. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Guide to Employment Standards". Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  16. ^ "General holidays". Yukon Department of Community Services. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Statutory Holidays in British Columbia Factsheet". British Columbia Ministry of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Public Holidays". November 2009.  
  19. ^ "Labour Standards: Public Holidays (Statutory)". Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Labour Relations Agency: Public Holidays". Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Public Service Secretariat: government holidays for 2012". 
  22. ^ "Holiday and Designated Closing Day Charts". Government of Nova Scotia: Labour and Advanced Education. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Paid Holidays". Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Interpretation Act" (PDF). Prince Edward Island Legislative Counsel Office. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Labour Standards Act, RSNWT (Nu) 1988, c L-1". Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Employment Standards Be Informed: Paid Public Holidays and Vacation/Vacation Pay" (PDF). Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Days of Rest Act: Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Long Live our Victoria Day". The Record. May 22, 2013. Retrieved May 22, 2013. 
  29. ^ Toporoski, Richard. "Royal Birthday Salute". Canadian Royal Heritage Trust. Retrieved May 18, 2015. 
  30. ^ "Arts and Culture > Festivals & Celebrations > Victoria Day". City of Victoria. Retrieved May 12, 2009. 
  31. ^ "Giant Victoria Day Parade takes over Douglas St.". Times Colonist. May 21, 2007. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  32. ^ Tong, Tracy (March 19, 2008). "Victoria Day seen as family time". Metro. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  33. ^ "The Mountain > The Mountain Overview". Sunshine Village. Retrieved May 12, 2009. 
  34. ^ Tynan, Jack (May 14, 2003). "Step by step work guide for Victoria Day opening of cottage". North Star (Parry Sound: North Star Publishing). Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  35. ^ a b Hauser, Michelle (May 21, 2013). "The truth about Victoria Day". The Whig. Retrieved May 22, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Victoria Day". Cooks Info. Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  37. ^ Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.  
  38. ^ "CBC News > Indepth > Language > 5,000 new words". CBC. July 26, 2004. Retrieved May 12, 2009. 
  39. ^ "May Two-Four or Victoria Day?". Toronto Sun. May 22, 2010. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  40. ^ a b "Victoria Day in Canada". Time and Date AS. Retrieved May 17, 2010. 
  41. ^ Finch, Robert (May 15, 2009), "Give her some respect – it’s not May 2–4 weekend", Hamilton Mountain News, retrieved May 24, 2011 
  42. ^ "May Long Weekend 2009 Closures". Access Winnipeg. Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  43. ^ Redmond, John (May 19, 2009). "Canadians Invite Community to Victoria Day BBQ". The Korea Times (Seoul: The Korea Times Co.). Retrieved May 21, 2009. 
  44. ^ Wilcox, Ted (May 16, 2008). "Firecracker Day". The Hamilton Spectator. Retrieved April 20, 2010. 

External links

  • Department of Canadian Heritage website entry for Victoria Day
  • Victoria Day Festival
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