There was a time in this fair land when Victoria Day – the 24th of May – was a big celebration – at least in English Canada. We celebrated the reigning Monarch’s birthday, commemorated Queen Victoria’s birthday, cried hip-hooray for the British Empire and trumpeted our British heritage. It was all very WASP, all very jingoistic. A celebration of an Empire that was fading away.
On the Saturday cottages were opened for the summer and preparations made for the weekends events. On Sunday, after a suitably solemn service of Morning Prayer with special anthem, family and friends gathered for the first picnic of the year. We proudly strung Union Jacks and Red Ensigns from house to tree, ate our hot dogs (though my mother frowned on that – you never knew what they put in those things!), drank our lemonade and when it finally got dark lit our fireworks. The Burning School House was a great favorite but I particularly loved the fairy light fascination of the sparklers – shades of things to come?
On the Monday a street parade formed up at Horner Public School and marched the four blocks over to the Alderwood Community Park. Lead by the local scout troop (my brother (left) proudly carrying the Union Jack), The Maple Leaf Forever blaring from a tinny speaker mounted on an old Ford pick-up, the Girl Guides giggling and waving their Union Jacks, followed by a throng of costumed kids with decorated bikes, trikes and wagons. The rearguard was brought up by the Alderwood Volunteer Fire Brigade truck the blast of its horn scaring the smaller kids who were lagging behind.
There were prizes for the best decorated bike – guaranteed if you used Union Jacks, a picture of the King or Queen or red, white and blue streamers you’d win some sort of prize. There was a prayer from the local Anglican minister asking a blessing on the Monarch and their loyal Dominion of Canada, speechs from our MPP and Alderman and God Save the Queen shrilly led by the public school choir and rousingly sung by one and all. Later that night was the “big” fireworks display – 15 or 20 rockets donated by the Hands Fireworks Co., some Catherine Wheels and more sparklers for all the kids.
Like the Empire we celebrated back then most of the May 24th traditions have faded away. It’s now just the first long weekend of the summer. This past few days people opened their cottages and there were BBQs and picnics, but there were no parades and I haven’t heard a single firework all evening. Sure there’s fireworks on Canada Day, July 1st but I always thought how lucky I was back then: I had two chances to burn that old schoolhouse.
I think the picture at the top of the page dates from 1949 and that fine looking pair of gentlemen at the left are my father Ab (Albert) and me (notice that damned tuft of hair again.) The lady behind us is my beloved Aunt Lil. Until the day she died she kept her Belfast accent and she was the only one who could get away with calling me Billy when I became an adult. The way she said it was musical.