Who doesn’t love a long weekend? May 24th has a lot of meaning:
- Unofficial start of summer: It’s a popular time for travel. Highways across the country clog with traffic as people open up cottages and visit other summer getaway places. Seatbelts on and don’t drink and drive (that includes boats).
- Victoria Day has many names: Officially, it’s referred to as Victoria Day or the sovereign’s birthday, but many people call it “the May long weekend,” and nicknames such as “May long” or “May two-four.”
- Canada’s oldest state holiday: According to the federal government, May 24 was first declared a holiday by the legislature of the Province of Canada in 1845 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.
- Queen Victoria was key: Queen Victoria was Canada’s sovereign at the time of Confederation in 1867. The Fathers of Confederation could not create the new country without her royal assent. She is also credited with turning Ottawa into the nation’s capital a decade earlier. In 1857, Ottawa was just a small logging town far away from the cities of Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto. The selection of Ottawa was strategic: Ottawa was on the Ontario-Quebec border and was considered a compromise between rival anglophone and francophone politicians. It was also far from the U.S. border and surrounded by dense forest, which military advisers saw as an advantage in the case of a U.S. invasion.
- Became annual holiday in 1901: When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Parliament made her birthday an annual holiday.
- Why it’s not always May 24: In 1952, Parliament declared that Victoria Day would be celebrated on the Monday before May 24 every year. As a result of this convention, the long weekend sometimes falls well before May 24, like it does this year.
- The Union Jack flown: The United Kingdom’s national flag, known also as the Union Jack, makes an appearance at public institutions on Victoria Day. It is traditionally flown on Victoria Day with the Canadian flag at federal buildings, airports, military bases and other government establishments within Canada “where physical arrangements allow,” according to the federal Heritage department. That means at least two flag poles must exist and the Canadian flag is never replaced by the Union Jack.
- May 24 is time to play in the dirt: Victoria Day is generally considered the time to start planting gardens.
- May 24 is date that really counts: On May 24 1918, Parliament passed the Statistics Act. It created the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, which we know today as Statistics Canada.
- Women won right to vote: Legislators gave Canadian-born women over the age of 21 the right to vote (in federal elections only) on May 24, 1916. Manitoba followed suit that same year, with other provinces giving women the right to vote in 1918 and 1922, with the exception of Quebec. That province didn’t give women the vote until 1940.
Whatever May 24 means to you, be safe and enjoy the long weekend!