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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Victoria Day

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In Britain and Canada, people have traditionally celebrated the reigning monarch's birthday. However, by the late 1800s, as historian Don Wetherall explains, the practice became institutionalized around the birthday of Queen Victoria.

By the 1890s, May 24th - or Victoria Day, as it was then called - became a celebration of empire and of Canada's place in the world as part of that empire and of British society.
Queen Victoria was seen as the personification of empire. Under her rule it had reached unprecedented size and wealth, and some people claimed that, in part, the Queen was responsible for this. She had helped to create that empire by the example of how she had lived her life - by stimulating a social and moral environment that made empire possible and achievable.

In the 1800s, English Canadians tended to view their loyalty to the British Empire as an extension of their loyalty to Canada.

And this vision held that Canadians had a higher purpose than the jingoism and breast-beating of the Americans. Canada, it was said, had a deeply expressed patriotism that was grounded in a sense of public interest and civic duty.
And these ideas justified the expansion of the Queen's birthday from a relatively straightforward celebration of the monarchy into an event that was, at times, ideologically complex.

Sometimes holiday activities simply revolved around family picnics and sports. But after Queen Victoria's death in 1901, many looked upon Victoria Day as a devotional exercise in perpetuating her memory and the British heritage of Canada. This was especially true during both world wars.

And it was also a day that could have deep political resonance. In the Crowsnest Pass in the late 1920s and early 30s,when Socialists and Communists were pitted against mine owners and town businessmen and conservative labour groups, May 24th was very deliberately treated by the local elites as a day for celebrating the "Britishness" of Alberta and, in this view, patriotism was equated with a defence of capitalism and the Anglo-Saxon ruling class. So, while the Communists and Socialists celebrated May Day, on May 1st , as a day which was important to them, more conservative opinion held May 24th dear.

At the turn of the 21st century, Victoria Day marks the first long weekend of summer, and the time for Albertans to plant their gardens.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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