Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

It’s the Victoria Day weekend, the unofficial first day of summer. At last I can plant my garden and not fear frost anymore (generally speaking). But what’s Victoria Day all about anyway, and why are we celebrating BC’s capital city?

It’s a long story. In a kingdom long ago and far away the great-great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Alexandrina Victoria, has cast a shadow across the world that remains one hundred and sixteen years after her death.

The young lady was just over five feet tall, when at 18, she ascended to the British throne. She was described as a serious but lively, warmhearted woman. She was outspoken, had an imposing reputation with a quick temper, and was totally committed to her beloved husband.

Her Prince Charming was Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, her first cousin. Because she was the monarch, he couldn’t ask her to marry him, that was the prerogative of the Queen. The marriage was portrayed as a story book love-story, and for the most part was. Just count the children, Edward II successor, Victoria, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur who became Canada’s Governor General, Leopold and Beatrice.

Although Albert was able to do little in the beginning of their marriage and became disconcerted by this, he began to take on a public role and eventually became Victoria’s primary advisor and political partner. When Victoria became visibly pregnant and could no longer appear ceremonially during her first pregnancy in 1840, Albert assumed her duties. As their family grew—they would have nine children by 1856—the monarchy became a shared partnership between them

One of the world’s great love-tragedies occurred when Albert died at the age of 42, sending Victoria into a period of mourning that lasted 10 years earning her the title, the ‘widow of Windsor.” Despite this she administered the British Empire leaving a lasting impact.

She died January 22, 1901, at the age of 92, being the longest reigning British monarch of 63 years, 216 days, until Queen Elizabeth II exceeded her reign on September 9, 2015.

Victoria’s legacy:
Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake; Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River, is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe; BC’s Capital Victoria; Saskatchewan’s capital, Regina. The Victoria Cross for valour was introduced in 1856 during the Crimean War, and it is the highest award in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And most important to many Canadians in the 21st Century, the Victoria Day Long Weekend, a Canadian statutory holiday, as well as a local public holiday in parts of Scotland.

  • Victoria and Albert popularized the celebration of Christmas throughan engraving of the Royal Family celebrating Christmas and decorating a Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle. It was published in 1848 and their German traditions were adopted worldwide. This started the tradition of sending Christmas cards. Soon every home in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, sweets, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts and other traditions including skating on ponds and sleigh rides.
  • There were at least six assassination attempts on Queen Victoria, mainly while riding in a carriage.
  • Queen Victoria was Canada’s sovereign at the time of Confederation in 1867 and provided her royal assent. She is also credited with turning Ottawa into the nation’s capital a decade earlier to provide distance from the Americans on the south side of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
  • Victoria Day or the sovereign’s birthday. Since 1953, Victoria Day has been recognized as the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II in Canada. In England, it’s celebrated in June, even though she was actually born in April (go figure).
  • In New Westminster, the Royal City, a very noisy, explosive ceremony has been carried on since 1859, by the Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery who conduct an explosive salute achieved by igniting gunpowder placed between two anvils. Check it out! MAY DAY COMMUNITY HERITAGE PICNIC SundayMay 28, 2017 – 2 pm – 4 pm at The Armoury of The Royal Westminster Regiment.  

For the rest of us it’s “the May 24 long weekend,” “the May long weekend,” “May long” or “May two-four” a nickname for a 24-bottle case of beer, which any red-blooded Canadian would cart up to the cottage, beach, patio, campsite. Now, who brought the snacks?