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Maxed Out: Setting the record straight on Canadian holidays

Happy Victoria Day Whistler
As we wait for springtime weather to arrive in earnest, Max sets the record straight on some Canadian holidays.

Let’s see, sun? Sun? Where the heck is it? Oh yeah, La Niña. So blame her. Flush the warmer temps and have a Plan B for the Victoria Day Weekend Campout and Weenie Roast. Yes, as out of place meteorologically as it may seem, this weekend is the kickoff long weekend of summer, which you may be forgiven for thinking is a cruel joke this year, at least if you live on the Left Coast. 

Victoria Day Weekend, not to belabour the obvious, was named for Queen Victoria, monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India and reputed party girl. Known to her close friends as Your Highness, Victoria reigned as queen from 1837 to 1901, when her rule came to an end because of an inherited genetic condition known as death.

Contrary to popular belief, Queen Victoria’s name was not Victoria. Oh, those wacky Brits. It was Alexandrina. We can all count ourselves lucky we’re not celebrating Alexandrina Day Weekend if for no other reason it would sound too Lewis Carroll to be believed. Interestingly—and I use the word interestingly because if I used a word that more aptly described how uninteresting what follows is you probably wouldn’t bother reading it—Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, pseudonym itself being a pseudonym for alias which bears a remarkable resemblance to Alice which is what Lewis Carroll is best known for… in Wonderland.

I only mention this fascinating factoid because I can’t for the life of me figure out how, exactly, Queen Victoria came to be called Queen Victoria. The Queen part I understand. But the Victoria part… well, these are the facts. Her father was Edward Augustus, known to his close friends as Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. Her mother was Marie Luise Viktoria, whose aliases included Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Princess of Leiningen and Duchess of Kent. She was German and, quite possibly, had personally invaded all of those places herself. 

The information in that last paragraph alone should give succor to the anti-monarchists among us.

But it raises an interesting question—op. cit. “interestingly”—doesn’t it? It was common practice at the time, in both England and Germany, for children to bear the last name of their father, unless, understandably, the child’s mother wasn’t married at the time of birth. Okay, I’m not suggesting anything here but just sayin’.

In order to keep this column from being even more bogged down by the weight of history, let me stop and welcome our holiday visitors, especially the returning Americans who I see are arriving in ever-increasing numbers if an unscientific survey of licence plates can be trusted, and help clear up any confusion they may be suffering because they’ve just found out this weekend is Victoria Day Weekend, and a long one at that. They are likely confused because (a) they’re American, and (b) next weekend is, in the U.S., Memorial Day Weekend, also a long one, and (c) as a rule, Americans don’t understand why everyone else in the world does things differently, especially Canadians, who they see as just the same as them but with cheaper money and states called provinces.

I can’t offer much to make Canadian customs less confusing. After more than four decades living here I simply accept these things for what they are. In fact, I’m no less confused than when I arrived lo those many years ago and I have a theory that natural-born Canadians are themselves equally confused, apparently preferring things that way. 

Americans themselves are confused by the quaint custom of Canadians celebrating well-known American holidays a few days to a few weeks earlier than they do. Americans celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. Canadians celebrate Co-Dependence Day, also known as Canada Day, on July 1, which no Canadian refers to as the 1st of July, unless they mean to say something as insignificant as, “Hey, tomorrow’s the 1st of July, eh?” 

No, Canada Day is simply Canada Day. And while it’s true, it does coincide with the British North America Act of 1867 which created Canada, it can rightly be seen by Americans as yet another British snub arising from the ass kicking Americans gave the Brits nearly a century earlier. But please understand, Canadians were just geopolitical pawns then. We didn’t choose July 1 just to steal your old glory.

Ditto Thanksgiving. Sure, we celebrate it on the second Monday in October while Americans celebrate a similarly named holiday on the fourth Thursday in November, but really, that has more to do with climate than international intrigue. Being this far north, Canadians have to celebrate the harvest in October. We’d be eating frozen turkey in our igloos if we waited until the fourth Thursday in November. Besides, Canadian football—oh, you didn’t know we had that too?—ends its season in early November. What would we watch in our tryptophan-induced lethargy if we waited until late November? Hockey? As if.

And just to set the record straight—don’t take this personally—we beat you to this holiday, too. Canadians have been celebrating Victoria Day since 1845. Canada wasn’t even a country in 1845! But the parliament of the Province of Canada passed legislation calling for a day of celebration to commemorate Queen Victoria’s birthday in that very year. It wasn’t called the Victoria Day Weekend then, weekends not having been invented yet and certainly not long weekends, but that’s when this holiday got started.

By contrast, American Memorial Day started as something called Decoration Day, a day to commemorate dead Civil War Union soldiers. The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, a month before Canada’s 20th anniversary of Victoria Day. So there. We’re No. 1… but you have the Indianapolis 500 which, until you read this, you might have thought was what you actually celebrated on Memorial Day weekend.

But really, we’re brothers across borders. Let’s not focus on what makes us different, let’s focus on what makes us nearly the same. We celebrate a dead queen. You celebrate all the dead. We consider Victoria Day the beginning of summer. You consider Memorial Day the beginning of summer. We barbecue; you barbecue. We sunburn; you sunburn. We go to our socialist medicine doctor for sunburn ointment; you lose your home to foreclosure because your health insurance company cancels you claiming your sunburn was (a) an act of God, (b) a pre-existing condition or (c) both. Oops, sorry; that is something that makes us different.

Oh well, happy Victoria/Memorial Day.