EDITORIAL: Remembering Victoria

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When she died in 1901, half the world mourned her passing and a Canadian holiday was legislated into existence and given a formal name.

It’s still known as Victoria Day, but the holiday is rarely celebrated on her birthday. And most often than not, we don’t even call it Victoria Day, preferring instead the May Long Weekend or the May Two-Four Weekend.

Whatever the case, it’s worth remembering Queen Victoria, whose 200th birthday will be marked on May 24. Yet almost 120 years after her death, the British monarch whose name has come to represent an entire century is mostly forgotten.

Here’s what you need to know.

She was born in 1819 and became Queen at 18.

Her improbable reign was historic. She was monarch for over 63 years, the longest in British history until Queen Elizabeth II eclipsed that record in 2015. During Victoria’s reign, Britain and its empire prospered and expanded. Its economic and cultural influence was such that most of the 19th century is commonly referred to as the Victorian Era.


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She married her first cousin, Prince Albert. It was Victoria who popped the question.

Theirs was a happy marriage. The union produced nine children. Most of them would marry into other royal families, giving Victoria in her old age the nickname: Grandmother of Europe. One of her grandsons, Kaiser Wilhelm, ruled Germany and was its last monarch. Another, Czar Nicholas II, was the last monarch for Russia.

When Albert died in late 1861, Victoria was plunged into a deep period of mourning. She frequently dressed in black, and for some years removed herself periodically from public appearances.

Victoria was Queen for so long that she outlived many of her prime ministers. During her reign Britain had 20 different governments and was served by 11 different prime ministers.

Although she was the nominal head of the Anglican Church, she privately aligned herself with the Presbyterians.

She kept a private journal almost from the start of her reign that eventually extended to 122 volumes.

Her death elicited an outpouring of sympathy and mourning that was almost global in scale because of the influence of her empire. Her name was already attached to numerous cities and towns, and in Australia to an entire state.

In Canada, her birthday had been formally observed from 1845 onward but was made a federal holiday and called Victoria Day almost immediately following her death. In Canada, she was called the Mother of Confederation.

Victoria Day was observed on May 24 until 1952, at which time it was moved to the Monday immediately preceding May 25, presumably because of weekend convenience.

Queen Victoria would have approved. It was during the Victorian Era that the weekend was formally acknowledged.

– Peter Epp

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