Victoria 101: Why We Have a Long Weekend in May


Why All The Fuss?

I was curious. British history is given short shrift in our schools so I had to wonder why we celebrated Queen Victoria every May. Not that I’m complaining or anything but what on earth did she do to deserve such an honor so that Canadians could get a holiday to remember her birthday when it’s finally nice enough to have a bbq and light fireworks (although it usually rains on Victoria Day and as I write this on Victoria Day 2011 the sky is indeed darkening and I can hear thunder). 

This article (slightly updated) written by yours truly and Laryssa Landale, appeared in a May edition of “The Walkerville Times” about ten years ago.

“[Victoria’s] Diamond Jubilee was, perhaps, the most conspicuous demonstration in the whole 19th century…the celebration was planned, above all, to demonstrate the extent and power of the British Empire and the unity and loyalty of all its constituent members, simultaneous demonstrations were held in all the British colonies and dependencies…”
The Life of Queen Victoria and the story of her reign, Charles Morris, LL.D., 1901.

Tremendous pomp and circumstance were awarded Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria on her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. In the Windsor/Walkerville area, celebrations for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 were planned long in advance and were much anticipated. Walkerville was decorated with Union Jacks and ribbons; there was a lavish parade, a message to her Canadian subjects from the Queen herself, and a cornerstone ceremony for a beautiful fountain designed by the eminent American architect Albert Kahn.

Once prominently displayed near the foot of Second Street in Olde Walkerville (now Devonshire Road), in front of the terminus Hiram Walker had built for his Lake Erie & Detroit River Railway, (read about it here) the Diamond Jubilee Fountain, or Victoria Fountain as it is known today, has been through the mill since its dedication.

Moved to Willistead Park when the train station was torn down, the fountain became neglected and vandalized. It received a face-lift in the 1990s (although its copper crown was never replaced) but remains the target of graffiti taggers and bored kids who like to sit on the steps or on the ledges around the bronze lion, which used to spout water back in the day and there was a little brass cup on a chain so you could wet your whistle. Instead of water the kids these days usually drink something a bit harder.

I Thaw Willistead Manor: A warm spell in February 2011 provided an interesting angle of Victoria Fountain in front of the mansion built for Edward (son of Hiram) and his wife Mary Walker. photo e.weeks

Chances are few people under forty who happen upon the fountain, now tucked behind Willistead Manor, know little of its importance despite the fact that there is an inscription running around the top of the edifice referring to Queen Victoria and her “glorious sixty-year reign”. Not to mention two regional capitals – Victoria and Regina– were named for her (in fact there are more Victorias in Canada than any other place name and supposedly more in this country then any other in the world!).

In Windsor, we have Victoria Avenue, Victoria Public School, the Victoria Park Place condos and the Victoria Tavern, on the corner of Chilver, which was known as Victoria before Walkerville amalgamated with Windsor in 1935 (and was originally Susan but that’s another story) and Brant. (You can read about the Victoria Tavern here.)

And there are lots of females named Victoria. (Sorry, just had to throw that in.)

It’s no secret that Canadians are certifiably ignorant of their history. When combined with the fact that the significance of the Royal family to Canadians has diminished considerably over the last 100 years, is it really not that surprising that one person, when quizzed about the Victoria Fountain, confused it with the Peace Fountain on our waterfront?

A Crash Course on England’s Longest Serving Monarch

She was born at Kensington Palace, London, on May 24, 1819, the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III. Edward died eight months after her birth and she became heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in succession had no legitimate children who survived.

Following her uncle William IV’s death, Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837 only a few days after turning eighteen. Her reign marked the beginning of a transformation for the British monarchy. She was faced with the task of defining a new role for the monarchy amidst a changing government. The crown retained the right to be consulted and to advise on all parliamentary matters. She was quite diligent in attending to this duty and as a result successfully maintained the influence and strength of the monarchy.

In 1840, she married her cousin Prince Albert and they had nine children between 1840 and 1857. Most of her children married into other royal families of Europe.

There were many milestones reached during Queen Victoria’s dominion. Amongst them were the first national postal system, “The Penny Post”, in 1840, compulsory education for all children in 1870, and the creation of the title Empress of India which all future British sovereigns would also hold until India gained independence in 1947. Victoria also has the distinction of being Britain’s longest-reigning monarch thus far, and ruler of the largest empire in history – “an empire upon which the sun never set”. …

By the way, it started to pour as I finished writing this post.

You can read the rest of The Walkerville Times article here.

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About Elaine Weeks

How history was taught in my day: memorize lots of boring dates and facts, watch corny old black & white history films. There was one bright spot, however. Grade 9 history at Walkerville Collegiate with Miss Falls (Georgina) when she taught a section on local history and took us on a field trip to explore some of Windsor's built heritage. Due to a peculiar series of events, celebrating local history became part of my business. My company, (partner is Chris Edwards,) Walkerville Publishing Inc., launched "The Walkerville Times" in 1999, which in due course became "The Times Magazine". Our goal was to make history real. I am a writer, editor, blogger, photographer, mother, wife, sister, activist, traveller, gardener, knitter, masters track & field competitor (when I have time), glass is nearly full person.
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