The “Victoria Day” Weekend is a three-day holiday commemorating the birth of Queen Victoria (born on May 24, 1819). Canada has been celebrating Victoria Day as the official birthday of the reigning Monarch, since Victoria’s reign (1837 to 1901), even though there have been five Monarchs since then.
You have undoubtedly heard friends and colleagues refer to this weekend as “MAY TWO FOUR.” There are a couple of reasons for that. The first of which is that May 24th was the actual birth date of Queen Victoria, and so Canada celebrates that birthday, on the Monday that immediately precedes May 25th each year. The other reason Canadians refer to the unofficial start to the Canadian summer, as “May Two Four” has everything to do with a large case of beer, which holds twenty-four bottles. This case is affectionately referred to as a “Two Four.” Hence the name of the weekend.
Here is some OFFICIAL historical (and some NOT-SO-HISTORICAL) Background on this holiday weekend:
In Canada, the celebration of Victoria Day occurs every year on the Monday, prior to May 25th. It is the official celebration in Canada of the birthdays of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II and every reigning Monarch in between. Victoria Day was established as a holiday in Canada 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.
Queen Victoria was born May 24, 1819
Crowned June 20, 1837 at the age of 18 (Reigned until 1901)
- Edward VII (Reign 1901-1910)
- George V (Reign 1910-1936)
- Edward VII (Reign 1936; abdicated the thrown)
- George VI (Reign 1936-1952)
Queen Elizabeth II was born April 21, 1926
Crowned on June 28, 1953
Even though subsequent Monarchs celebrated different birthdays, Canada continued to observe Victoria Day. An amendment to the Statutes of Canada in 1952 established the celebration of Victoria Day the Monday preceding May 25. From 1953 to 1956, the Queen’s birthday was celebrated in Canada on Victoria Day, by proclamation of the Governor General, with Her Majesty’s approval. In 1957, Victoria Day was permanently appointed as the Queen’s birthday in Canada. In the United Kingdom, the Queen’s birthday is celebrated in June (even though she was born in April).
The unofficial start to summer in Canada is the “May 24th” weekend – even though it doesn’t always fall on May 24th. It is the first warm weather opportunity for Canadians to spend the long weekend at their cottage, or lounge on a patio somewhere in the city, and drink beer.
It is also important to note that this Monday is a Business Holiday, which means that many stores and offices are closed.
Under the Retail Business Holidays Act, Victoria Day, is among the eight days annually when most stores must be closed. This means that all the following facilities will be closed on the holiday Monday: Government Offices & Services, Schools, Banks, Liquor & Beer Stores and most retail stores.
The Act, administered by the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, exempts some retail operations. Flower shops, gas stations and book or magazine stores under 2,400 square feet with a maximum of three employees, are among exempted businesses. Stores may also be open in locations established as tourist areas by specific municipal bylaws. In Toronto, many business areas are designated as Tourist Areas, and will be open all weekend (some areas include: Yorkville, the Beaches, Harbourfront and Queen Street West).
Many tourist areas and private citizens further celebrate the holiday by having fireworks displays. Check the local newspapers for listings of City Sponsored fireworks displays. But don’t be surprised this weekend if you here and see small fireworks going off in your neighbourhood each night.
As the first long weekend of the summer, many Torontonians use this opportunity to make their first trip to their summer cottage or camping destinations. Consequently, the highways leading out of the city are usually clogged with drivers towing, recreational vehicles, boats and campers (usually overloaded with baggage and supplies. This makes the May Two Four weekend historically very dangerous for driving. In recent years, Ontario Provincial Police have made concerted efforts to manage the roads and highways in attempts to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities on these roads.