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Welcome to the unofficial start of summer, otherwise known as the Victoria Day long weekend.
This statutory holiday, most commonly called May 2-4, is associated with all the usual summer stuff: barbecues, outdoor festivals, pool parties, watermelon-eating, beer-drinking, cottage-hopping and sunbathing. You know, all the things we dream about in the dead of our Canadian winters.
In case you’re wondering, though, Victoria Day is more than just the start of warm weather and a fantastic excuse for a long weekend (but hey, we’re not complaining).
WHY WE CELEBRATE: HBD, YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS!
Let’s start with a short historical synopsis (so you can show off your smarts to your friends 🤓).
The statutory holiday started off as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday, but it now marks Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, too. So really, it’s a day of royal highness recognition.
Sadly, though, some provinces are excluded from the statutory holiday, including Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., and New Brunswick (so sorry, Maritimes).
The holiday was established in Canada in 1845, and officially became a national holiday in 1901. Canada has celebrated the Queen’s birthday for centuries, but before Queen Victoria ascended her throne in the late 1830s, it resembled more of a military occasion than a holiday.
In 1841, the parliaments of Upper and Lower Canada merged into a single legislative assembly for the province of Canada, with the goal of creating unity between English and French Canadians (they didn’t really get along too well back then). A national holiday honouring Queen Victoria’s birthday seemed like a perfect way to appeal to both sects of Canadian society. After all, who wouldn’t love an excuse for a long weekend to kick off summer?
At the time, loyalty to the monarchy was a key feature distinguishing Canadians from their American counterparts. Even after Queen Victoria died in 1901, May 2-4 has remained a public holiday.
THE EVOLUTION OF VICTORIA DAY
Over time, the sentiment behind Victoria Day has changed from one celebration to another. In 1939, the day was treated as King George VI’s official birthday in Canada. Then it became Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday in 1952 and was officially set on the Monday before the 24th of May each year, creating the modern long weekend celebration as we know it.
SOME NOTEWORTHY BULLETS
- We lucky Canadians have the only country where Queen Victoria’s birthday remains a national holiday.
- Victoria Day is considered Canada’s oldest state holiday.
- Canadian women over the age of 21 won the right to vote in federal elections on May 24,1916 (about time). Another reason to celebrate!
- The popular name “May two-four” is also the name for a 24-bottle case of beer. Data from recent years show that some Canadian breweries see a 20% increase in sales before the May 2-4 long weekend.
- Victoria Day is most complicated in Quebec since it’s also National Patriots’ Day. In 2003, the province conflictingly claimed the first Monday before May 25 as National Patriots’ Day, in honour of the 1837 rebellion against the British colonial government.
AND SOUTH OF THE BORDER: MEMORIAL DAY
The U.S. long-weekend/summer-kickoff equivalent to Victoria Day is Memorial Day, a national holiday honouring American soldiers who died in any war while serving the United States. It’s always on the last Monday in May.
Though one week after Victoria Day, Memorial Day is similarly considered the unofficial start of summer. But unlike Victoria Day, Memorial Day has a much more somber undertone and is regularly seen as a solemn day of remembrance (and, uh, barbecue).
CLOSED FOR BUSINESS
All federal buildings and organizations are closed for the day, including post offices and provincially-owned liquor stores (buy your booze in advance, people). Many grocery stores and other private businesses will be closed, but it’s always best to call in advance to make sure.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Major tourist attractions across the country remain open, including the Vancouver aquarium, most museums, the CN Tower, public parks and historical sites. Public transit runs on a holiday schedule, and many retail stores and restaurants remain open, but again, calling ahead to confirm is probably a good idea.
THINGS TO DO
Every major Canadian city has its own unique way of celebrating Victoria Day, but most have a number of firework viewings and beer festivals. Click below for some ideas:
And because we love you, here’s a great resource for wherever you are in Canada.