A doubly royal weekend
By the time most people read this, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will have already been married at Windsor Castle in England. It’s also the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada. Victoria Day is the third Monday in May, closest to or on the May 24 birthday of Queen Victoria, who was Queen of the British Empire—which included Canada, when the country was established. These days, the weekend is often better known as “May 24,” or “May two-four,” in recognition of the 24-pack cases of beer often associated with the weekend. Victoria Day is also when Canadians observe the birthday of Elizabeth II, the current Queen. Her actual birthday is April 21, but let’s face it, the weather was too cold and wet then to enjoy camping or a backyard cook-out.
For many, enthusiasm for royalty is a serious obligation of national loyalty. The Monarchist League of Canada is one organization that takes the Crown and all it stands for very seriously. Its website suggests how Canadians can arrange social or community events to celebrate Prince Harry and Ms. Markle’s wedding. The league also gives a lot of insight into the logic of Canadians who support the monarchy “A central reality of Canadian life is the overwhelming influence of American culture. For Canada, constitutional monarchy is important as it makes Canada unique in the Americas,” said Philippe Chartrand of the league’s Ottawa chapter, adding that “Members of our Royal Family serve as role-models to look up to. They dedicate their lives to the services of their subjects, it is in fact, for all the pomp and circumstance quite a sacrifice.”
Chartrand said he is a monarchist because the institution represents stability. The “royal prerogative” of the Crown—the Queen and her representatives (the Governor-General and Lieutenants-Governor of each province, are the sort of referees who can intervene to keep an elected government acting within the constitution. The Crown is above partisan politics, and Chartrand claimed that the stability of the Crown has kept Canada relatively peaceful and helped it evolve into a progressive, economically strong nation. He referred to a 2017 study that showed eight of the world’s ten “best governments” were countries with constitutional monarchies.
It would be easy to think that most Canadian monarchists are elderly people of English heritage, but Chartrand said that is not the case. He said the Ottawa chapter of the monarchist league has a “very typically Canadian” membership of people of all ages, genders, races, and religions, and proves that the monarchy is still relevant in a very diverse country.
Citizens for a Canadian Republic do not share the enthusiasm towards the monarchy. The organization formed in 2002 and wants Canada to end its ties with the British Crown. Director Tom Freda said they actually wish Prince Harry and Meghan Markle the very best with their marriage, and did the same when Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, married Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. But, he emphasized that the monarchy “is a foreign-based, inegalitarian, undemocratic anachronism unsuitable for Canada in the Twenty-first Century.” Freda referred to a 2017 opinion poll where 61% of those surveyed agreed that “the royals are simply celebrities and nothing more,” and should have no official role in Canadian society.
When it comes to Victoria Day, Freda said there is “strangeness” about a day celebrating a person who never once visited Canada. He said most Canadians don’t even realize that since 1957, Victoria Day has also been the day Elizabeth II’s birthday is officially observed. Freda said it’s a myth that Victoria was closely involved with the establishment of Canada in 1867. Her diary entry for July 1, 1867 made no mention of Canada, but only the day’s weather at Windsor Castle and the anniversary of a relative. Freda also noted that Victoria Day—or the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, are not public holidays in Britain!
He said his organization would rather see Canadians use the long weekend to honor other things like democracy or indigenous people. In Quebec, support for the monarchy is traditionally at its lowest for historical, religious, and political reasons. The protestant English defeated the Roman Catholic French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and the tension over the result has never quite disappeared for many. In 2003, the Quebec government renamed Victoria Day in the province as the fête des patriotes or Patriot’s Day in honor of the republican rebels of 1837-38 who tried to overthrow the British colonial government.
There is no denying the British Crown’s significance in the history of Canada and its influence on Canadian society. This is clearly important to many Canadians. The glamor and ceremony of royal weddings definitely makes the monarchy popular in the same way movie stars are, even if there is ambivalence towards the institution itself.
Canadians gladly welcome the May long weekend every year, even if they don’t understand or care why it exists.