This Canadian holiday remembers the birthday of a British monarch now departed 116 years ago. There are aging Monarchists who still consider her a heroine and certainly her reign was "long and glorious." Present day Canada is a federation of colonial British provinces and was celebrated in Upper (Quebec) and Lower Canada (Ontario) before they united with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. This was partly due to Vicky's idea that a single country in the New World might be more readily governed than five independent tweeitories. This statutory holiday observed at least as early as 1845 was informally termed "Fête de la Reine" or "The Queen's Birthday" and was at first cause for ceremony on her actual birth date. It is currently set at final Monday in May which means that it can be celebrated at any date between the 18th of May and the 24th. It is a holiday in parts of Scotland but not the entire country.
There was a shelf in and oval shaped alcove above the front door at St. Stephen Elementary School, which Rod was forced to attend in 1939. On it resided plaster busts of three dead people. Two Canadian politicians, one a conservative the other a liberal. Front and centre was the majestic Vicky, remembered as "the Mother of Confederation." Back then much of the adult population had been subject to her rule and neo-Victorian mores and means of transport returned during two world wars in the 20th century. At first celebrations consisted of little more than shouting cheers for the queen in public squares, but by the 1890s various wars and promises of war turned it into a patriotic nationalistic celebration. It was 1904 before London declared May 24 as Empire Day throughout all her realms. Over the ensuing decades, the official date in Canada of the reigning sovereign's birthday changed through various royal proclamations until the haphazard format was abandoned in 1952.
Vicky may is best-known for lending her name to the historical era of social and sexual restraint, but the paintings she purchased often featured a daring amount of human flesh, and she was a dedicated amateur artist from childhood. A good deal of her work was impromptu but these quick studies of a princess royal, herself and her husband, Albert (prior to a costumed ball) were probably done in private. She did popularize drawing and painting as valid pursuits for gentle women. Mount Allison's school of art was originally a all-female domain associated with their Ladies' College. The Owen's Art Gallery School, where Alex Colville taught, remained predominantly female in numbers of student well past the middle of the last century.
Memorial Day, a floating holiday American holiday, is observed on the last Monday of May. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday there in 1971. Ostensibly it honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. However, in the United States and Canada, it has as much to do with kitchen parties and beach parties. Every North American likes the concept of a summer holiday and no matter how gentle the weather it is the first big blow out following months of uncertain weather.
Many people do visit burial grounds on this holiday and it is traditional to fly the flag of the United States at half mast from dawn until noon. This is possible because all non-essential government offices are closed, as are schools, businesses and other organizations. Most public transit systems do not run on their regular schedule. However, this day has cultural significance. Many people see Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to go on a short vacation or visit family or friends. This causes congestion on highways and at airports. This day is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season for cultural events. For the fashion conscious, it is thought acceptable to wear white clothing, particularly shoes from Memorial Day until Labor Day. However, fewer and fewer people follow this rule, just as the day has become less of an occasion of remembrance.
Way back when, Victoria Day prompted a day-long fête to mark the occasion, including a gun salute at midnight, pre-dawn serenades, picnics, athletic competitions, a display of fireworks, and a torch-light procession. In Nova Scotia Keith's beer had been in production since 1820, before Victoria came to the throne, but twenty-four packs of the product were not purveyed. Wherever there were cheers for the Queen there was probably plenty of invigorating drink.
Nova Scotia's Liquor Control Commission stores are a provincial government monopoly and our legislature has had a paternalistic, moralistic, profit-oriented approach to distributing the product but they did open on Victoria Day until very recently. The Monarchist League of Canada reminds folk that this holiday also honours the current monarch Elizabeth II, and hopes that "you'll raise a glass in honour of the Queen's birthday." No worry about raising a glass even if fewer Canadians toast the monarch. "Victoria Day long weekend is a very important week for us. It's right up there with July, August long weekends and the week before Christmas," said Catharine Pringle of Labatt Breweries."
Liquor laws used to be stringent. In 1882, Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to declare prohibition. Although enforcement was difficult, drunkenness and associated crimes declined significantly. However, illicit stills and home-brewed "moonshine" proliferated. By constitutional amendment, the United States was under even stricter prohibition than was Canada from 1920 to 1933 and may Nova Scotians made rum-running a business. Liquor could be legally produced in Canada and legally exported out of Canadian ports but not sold here. Quebec rebelled and went wet in 1919. New Brunswick held out until 1927; Nova Scotia, 1930 and P.E.I., 1948. Kitchen parties made good sense in winter and always left alternate exit routes in case of "temperance" raid by law men. Older members of the population are not yet comfortable with the idea of not having to drink from a paper bag.
True-blue adults have never participated in a May Run "old-style." The overnight rendevous in my time was usually a remote hunting camp or a family cottage which had not yet become occupied. On one ocassion a member of our party was incarcerated overnight after looping a beer-bottle over the car into a ditch. That was in Maine. His dad, a clergyman, let him rest in the Calais hoosegow until late Monday morning Rod's youngest son used to travel with his pals to a beach campsite on Prince Edward Island with a similar purpose in mind. Usually these were all-male pursuits. This kind of run has become somewhat subverted by marathon runs for charity. The Halifax version occurs at approximately this time of year as does the Saint John "Port City Run." The latter has an interesting commercial/charitable mix of motives. Five hundred runners make pit-stops at five watering-hole breweries along their route. The Prince Edward version lasts for several days and is more tightly controlled when it comes to alcohol and prohibited substances.
When the weather is half ways decent there are always traditionalists who prefer the old Two-Four approach to celebration of the May Long Day:
That is the theory, but there are plenty of hidden coves with beaches and its hard for the long arm of the law to reach all of them. Micro breweries are closing in on names which reflect "shenanigans." Boxing Rock beer is bottled at Shelburne and Hell Bay beer at Liverpool. We have sampled both while staying overnight in these places. Mahone Bay's first micro brewery came on line last year.
Here is the official word on drinking in the open air and transporting two-fours. Now and then even that generous size expands as illustrated above.
R&R do not party as much as some of our relatives suggest. Winning that barrel created a storage problem and came from a single purchase of a 6 pack in the winter of 2014. We do our own version of a May Run but its a comparatively quite affair.
Not at all like this popular event, which we have dropped by to see twice in years past. The organizers have had the good sense to avoid a May rally. The weather is invariably more dependable at this end of summer.
Two of our greatest super heroes are not entirely Canadian. Canada is the only country that commemorates Queen Victoria with an official holiday. Before they were abolished in 1968 by the Trudeau government, Royal salutes (21-gun salutes) used to be fired in Ottawa, the provincial capitals, and Montreal and Vancouver not only on the Queen’s Official Birthday, but also on the Queen’s Accession Day. New Brunswick, has prescribed May 24 as a day of rest on which retail businesses must be closed. In Nova Scotia it is not a designated retail closing day, but is considered a "non-statutory holiday" which means business owners can stay open or close as they wish. The same holds for Prince Edward Island. Victoria Day is not a paid public holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador, but is a government holiday. It is a statutory holiday in British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Everyone is free to interpret that word "fun." Unfortunately, there were a record number of drunk driving charges laid in Canada on the long weekend in 2015. R&R spent their honeymoon at this time of year at Saint Martins County Inn, New Brunswick. They drove down to the beach in their eight-year old forest green Mustang muscle-car. I sold it in the following year at the purchase price. Over the years they have tried to manage a similar May Run into some part of Nova Scotia.
Their last overnight mini-vacation involved a stay at Hillsboro House, the oldest inn at Annapolis Royal on the Fundy shore. To see this excursion click here, or on the above image.
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