The History of Victoria Day
Canada has been an independent nation since the passage of the British North America Act in 1867. However, Canadians have long recognized their historic ties to the British Empire, which reached its pinnacle under Britain’s second-longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. May 24th has been designated as Victoria Day (Fête de la Reine in Quebec) and has been a federal holiday for seventy years. Like Memorial Day in the States, it marks the beginning of summer in the Dominion.
In addition to parades, fireworks and gun salutes, the Royal Canadian Mint issues its own commemorative coins to honour the queen whose name dominates the 19th Century.
Who Was Queen Victoria?
Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born in 1819 to the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward, and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg. When her father and uncles died without heirs, she was crowned Queen Victoria in 1837, barely a month after her eighteenth birthday. Three years later, she married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. She and Prince Albert had no fewer than nine children, who married into many of Europe’s royal families; many of her grandchildren became monarchs in their own right. Among her progeny were:
- King George V of England
- Queen Sophia of Greece
- Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
- Queen Maud of Norway
- Czar Nicholas Romanov of Russia
- Queen Marie of Romania
- Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain
Small wonder Queen Victoria was known as the “Mother of Europe.”
She Gave Her Name to an Era
Even today, over 120 years since Queen Victoria’s passing, her name has come to define the culture, mores, traditions, architecture and clothing styles of the later 1800s. Under Victoria’s reign, Great Britain became a superpower. At its height, the British Empire controlled more than one-quarter of the planet and boasted the most powerful navy on earth. It was a time of significant advances in exploration, technology and science, which continue to reverberate into the 21st Century. Even today, the popular genre known as “steampunk” is largely based on the styles, culture and machines of the Victorian Era.
Queen Victoria’s birthday has been celebrated in Canada since 1845. However, it was not an official holiday until after her death in 1901. Many Canadians still revere Queen Victoria, as she was the reigning monarch when Great Britain granted Canada full independence and named Ottawa as the capital of the Dominion. It is worth noting that Canada is the only nation in the modern world that still commemorates her birth and reign.
In addition, many Canadian coins honour Queen Victoria.
Royal Canadian Mint Pays Tributes to the Queen
The Royal Canadian Mint has issued several coins to commemorate Queen Victoria’s long reign since the bicentennial of her birth. Not only are these valuable collector items, but many are also works of art as well. One of these is the $50 five-ounce silver coin, minted in 2019. This features a full-colour portrait of Her Majesty against an engraving of Westminster Abbey in London.
That year, the RCM also minted a unique rectangular 50-cent coin, based on a postage stamp designed by Peleg Franklin Brownell and Lyndwode Charles Pereira in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee in 1897.
In 2008, the RCM issued a $15 silver coin featuring the image of young Queen Victoria as part of their “Vignettes of Royalty” series. The image is the same one that appeared on a number of Canadian coins between 1870 and 1901.
Celebrating Victoria Day
Many communities across Canada mark Victoria Day with parades, the biggest of which is held in the Queen’s namesake of Victoria, British Columbia. In the nation’s capital, the venerable Trooping of the Queen’s Colours is sometimes held on Parliament Hill.
Mostly, however, Victoria Day marks the end of the cooler months and the start of summer fun!