Victoria Day in Canada in May

by CiCi
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Victoria Day is a distinctly Canadian holiday, celebrated on the last Monday preceding May 25th. Known as the unofficial kickoff to summer in Canada, it is a day filled with historical significance, communal celebrations, and a myriad of local traditions. This article delves into the origins, customs, and contemporary significance of Victoria Day, painting a comprehensive picture of this cherished Canadian holiday.

The Historical Origins of Victoria Day

Victoria Day commemorates the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born on May 24, 1819. Queen Victoria was the monarch who presided over a significant era of British history, known as the Victorian Era, from 1837 to 1901. This period was marked by industrial progress, cultural shifts, and the expansion of the British Empire, of which Canada was a significant part.


Canada has celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday since before Confederation. The holiday was officially declared a national holiday in 1845 by the Parliament of the Province of Canada, which is now part of Ontario and Quebec. Initially, it was a day for subjects to show their loyalty to the Crown and to reflect on the unity and stability provided by the monarchy.


Evolution into a Canadian Tradition

After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, May 24th was designated as Victoria Day, by an act of the Canadian Parliament, to honor her memory. Over time, the holiday evolved from a solemn day of reflection into a more festive occasion. The holiday not only celebrates Queen Victoria but also serves as the official birthday celebration for the current reigning Canadian monarch, a tradition that underscores Canada’s enduring ties to the British Crown.

Victoria Day has become an essential part of Canadian cultural heritage, reflecting the country’s historical roots while also marking the transition from spring to summer. It is a statutory holiday across most of Canada, though the specifics can vary slightly by province.

Traditions and Celebrations Across Canada

Fireworks and Parades

One of the most iconic elements of Victoria Day celebrations is the fireworks display. Communities large and small organize elaborate fireworks shows that light up the night sky, symbolizing the festive spirit of the holiday. Cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa host some of the most spectacular displays, drawing thousands of spectators.

Parades are another staple of Victoria Day, especially in cities with strong historical ties to the British monarchy. These parades feature marching bands, floats, and reenactors dressed in Victorian-era costumes, celebrating both the holiday and Canada’s rich heritage.

Civic and Community Events

Victoria Day also includes a variety of civic and community events. Many municipalities organize picnics, barbecues, and fairs, fostering a sense of community and togetherness. Public parks and gardens are popular venues for these gatherings, as Canadians take advantage of the blooming flowers and warmer weather.

In many towns and cities, Victoria Day marks the opening of public gardens and the beginning of the gardening season. This tradition aligns with the historical roots of the holiday, as Queen Victoria herself was known for her love of gardens and nature.

Sporting Events and Recreational Activities

The long weekend provides an excellent opportunity for outdoor activities and sports. Many Canadians use the holiday to go camping, hiking, and fishing, taking full advantage of the natural beauty of the Canadian landscape. Victoria Day weekend is also a popular time for the first boat rides of the season, as lakes and rivers become accessible after the winter thaw.

Sports events, such as local baseball games and marathons, are commonly held during the Victoria Day weekend. These events bring communities together, fostering a spirit of camaraderie and healthy competition.

The Unofficial Start of Summer

For many Canadians, Victoria Day marks the unofficial start of summer. The holiday weekend is often seen as the first chance to enjoy warm weather activities after a long, cold winter. It is a time when cottages are opened, gardens are planted, and summer gear is dusted off.

Retailers and businesses also capitalize on the Victoria Day long weekend by offering significant sales and promotions. Garden centers and home improvement stores, in particular, see a surge in business as Canadians prepare their homes and gardens for the summer season.

Victoria Day and Canadian Identity

Victoria Day holds a unique place in the Canadian cultural landscape. It is a holiday that bridges the past and the present, celebrating historical ties to the British monarchy while also serving as a contemporary symbol of Canadian identity. The holiday reflects Canada’s evolution from a British colony to a sovereign nation with its own distinct cultural heritage.

For Indigenous communities in Canada, Victoria Day presents a complex intersection of history and identity. While the holiday celebrates the colonial ties to the British Crown, it is also a reminder of the impacts of colonization on Indigenous peoples. Many Indigenous Canadians use the day to reflect on their history and advocate for greater recognition and reconciliation.

Regional Variations in Celebrations

Victoria Day is celebrated across Canada, but the way it is observed can vary significantly from one region to another. This diversity in celebration styles reflects the varied cultural landscapes of Canada’s provinces and territories.

Eastern Canada

In Eastern Canada, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, Victoria Day is sometimes referred to as “May 24th” or “May Two-Four,” a nod to both the date and the slang term for a case of 24 beers. The holiday is marked by community events, including bonfires, barbecues, and traditional music performances. The coastal communities often take to the water, enjoying boating and fishing activities that herald the start of the summer season.

Central Canada

In Ontario and Quebec, Victoria Day is celebrated with grand fireworks displays, especially in major cities like Toronto and Montreal. These cities host large-scale public events, including parades, concerts, and cultural festivals. In the nation’s capital, Ottawa, the day is celebrated with a sense of national pride, including ceremonies and activities that highlight Canada’s heritage and the monarchy’s role in it.

Western Canada

In the western provinces, such as British Columbia and Alberta, Victoria Day is often associated with outdoor recreation. Residents take advantage of the holiday weekend to explore the natural beauty of the region, with activities ranging from hiking in the Rockies to surfing on Vancouver Island. Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, hosts some of the most elaborate celebrations, given its name and historical connection to Queen Victoria.

Victoria Day in Modern Times

In contemporary Canada, Victoria Day has evolved beyond its original purpose. While it remains a day to honor Queen Victoria and the reigning monarch, it has also become a celebration of Canadian culture and the arrival of summer. The holiday weekend is a time for relaxation, enjoyment of the outdoors, and community engagement.

The significance of Victoria Day continues to evolve as Canada itself changes. The holiday’s connection to the monarchy is a reminder of the country’s historical roots, but it also serves as a platform for celebrating the diverse and inclusive society that Canada strives to be today.

Reflections and Future Perspectives

As Canada moves forward, Victoria Day provides an opportunity for reflection on the nation’s past and its path toward the future. The holiday’s dual role in honoring historical ties and celebrating contemporary Canadian culture makes it a unique and meaningful occasion.

For many Canadians, Victoria Day is a cherished tradition that brings together family, friends, and communities. It is a time to celebrate the arrival of summer, appreciate the beauty of the Canadian landscape, and acknowledge the historical figures who have shaped the nation.


Victoria Day is more than just a public holiday; it is a reflection of Canada’s rich history, diverse culture, and the enduring legacy of Queen Victoria. As Canadians gather to celebrate, they honor their past while looking forward to a bright and inclusive future.

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