1. Monday, May 23, 2005

    Today is Victoria Day 

    In Canada, the celebration of Victoria Day occurs every year on Monday, prior to May 25th. It is the official celebration in Canada of the birthdays of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.

    Victoria Day was established as a holiday in Canada West (Now Ontario) in 1845, and became a national holiday in 1901. Before Victoria Day became a national Holiday, people had celebrated Empire Day, beginning in the 1890s as Victoria approached her Diamond jubilee in 1897.

    In 1977 Commonwealth Day was moved to the second Monday in March, but Canadians continued to celebrate Victoria Day in May. In Canada, this holiday and Canada Day are celebrated with fireworks, though Victoria day is a decidedly lower-key event. Monarchist groups often use Victoria Day as a day of celebration, but to the majority of Canadians the day is simply a holiday off from work, with little specific meaning.

    This is the first of the summer long weekends in Canada, and is known colloquially as “May two-four weekend”. The phrase has two meanings, the first, of course, is the fact that it usually falls around May 24, and secondly, those who celebrate will often get together to drink beer (a two-four is a case of 24 bottles of beer.) Note that the holiday may be referred to as “May two-four” even if it falls as early as May 18.

    Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and empress of India was born on 24 May 1819. She ascended the throne after the death of her uncle George IV in 1837 when she was only 18. She ruled until her death in 1901 when her son Edward the VII became king of England.

    After Confederation, the Queen’s birthday was celebrated every year on May 24 unless that date was a Sunday, in which case a proclamation was issued providing for the celebration on May 25.

    After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, an Act was passed by the Parliament of Canada establishing a legal holiday on May 24 in each year (or May 25 if May 24 fell on a Sunday) under the name Victoria Day.

    Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg, was born in Kensington Palace in London on May 24th, 1819, the daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, a son of King George III.

    Due to the fact that the King was insane, George, the older brother of Edward served as the country’s regent. The Prince Regent and his estranged wife had just one child, Princess Charlotte of Wales. After Charlotte’s death in 1817, the people began to worry about the royal succession. Although the king had twelve living children, none of them had offspring who were eligible to inherit the throne.

    After pressure from the Parliament and the public, Edward married the German princess, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg, age 31. On May 24, 1819 the Duchess of Kent gave birth to a daughter. She was christened Alexandrina Victoria.

    She ascended the throne upon the death of William IV. Barely eighteen, she refused any further influence from her domineering mother and ruled in her own stead. Popular respect for the Crown was at low point at her coronation, but the modest and straightforward young Queen won the hearts of her subjects. She wished to be informed of political matters, although she had no direct input in policy decisions.

    The Reform Act of 1832 had set the standard of legislative authority residing in the House of Lords, with executive authority resting within a cabinet formed of members of the House of Commons; the monarch was essentially removed from the loop. She respected and worked well with Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister in the early years of her reign, and England grew both socially and economically.

    Victoria’s long reign witnessed an evolution in English politics and the expansion of the British Empire, which included Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, and large parts of Africa, as well as political and social reforms on the continent.

    France had known two dynasties and embraced Republicanism, Spain had seen three monarchs and both Italy and Germany had united their separate principalities into national coalitions. Even in her dotage, she maintained a youthful energy and optimism that infected the English population as a whole.

    Immediately after becoming queen, Victoria began regular meetings with William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, the British prime minister at the time. The two grew very close, and Melbourne taught Victoria how the British government worked on a day-to-day basis.

    In her later years, she almost became the symbol of the British Empire. Both the Golden (1887) and the Diamond (1897) Jubilees, held to celebrate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the queen’s accession, were marked with great displays and public ceremonies. On both occasions, Colonial Conferences attended by the Prime Ministers of the self-governing colonies were held.

    Despite her advanced age, Victoria continued her duties to the end – including an official visit to Dublin in 1900. The Boer War in South Africa overshadowed the end of her reign. As in the Crimean War nearly half a century earlier, Victoria reviewed her troops and visited hospitals; she remained undaunted by British reverses during the campaign: ‘We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.’

    Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, on 22 January 1901 after a reign which lasted almost 64 years, the longest in British history. She was buried at Windsor beside Prince Albert, in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum, which she had built for their final resting place. Above the Mausoleum door are inscribed Victoria’s words: ‘farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again’.

    British Empire, name given to United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the former dominions, colonies, and other territories throughout the world that owed allegiance to the British Crown from the late 1500s to the middle of the 20th century. At its height in the early 1900s, the British Empire included over 20 percent of the world’s land area and more than 400 million people.

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