Victoria Day (in French: Fête de la Reine) is a federal Canadian public holiday celebrated on the last Monday before May 25, in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday. The date is also, simultaneously, that on which the current reigning Canadian sovereign's official birthday is recognized. It is sometimes informally considered as marking the beginning of the summer season in Canada.
The holiday has been observed since before Canada was formed, originally falling on the sovereign's actual birthday, and continues to be celebrated in various fashions across the country on the fixed date; the holiday has always been a distinctly Canadian observance. It is a statutory holiday federally, as well as in six of Canada's ten provinces and all three of its territories. In Quebec, the same day was, since the Quiet Revolution, unofficially known as Fête de Dollard until 2003, when provincial legislation officially named the same date as Victoria Day the National Patriots' Day.
The birthday of Queen Victoria was a day for celebration in Canada long before Confederation, with the first legislation regarding the event being in 1845 passed by the parliament of the Province of Canada to officially recognize May 24 as the Queen's birthday. It was noted that on that date in 1854, the 35th birthday of Queen Victoria, some 5,000 residents of Canada West gathered in front of Government House (near present day King and Simcoe Streets in Toronto) to "give cheers to their queen." On May 24, 1866, the town of Omemee, also in Canada West, mounted a day-long fête to mark the occasion, including a gun salute at midnight, pre-dawn serenades, picnics, athletic competitions, a display of illuminations, and a torch-light procession; such events were common around the colony and, by the 1890s, the day had become a "patriotic holiday".
Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, May 24 was made by law to be known as Victoria Day, a date to remember the late queen, who was deemed the "Mother of Confederation", and, in 1904, the same date was by imperial decree made Empire Day throughout the British Empire. Over the ensuing decades, the official date in Canada of the reigning sovereign's birthday changed through various royal proclamations until the haphazard format was abandoned in 1952. That year, both Empire Day and Victoria Day were, by order-in-council and statutory amendment, respectively, moved to the Monday before May 25 and the monarch's official birthday in Canada was by regular viceregal proclamations made to fall on this same date every year between 1953 and January 31, 1957, when the link was made permanent by royal proclamation. The following year, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day and in 1977 it was moved to the second Monday in March, leaving the Monday before May 25 only as both Victoria Day and the Queen's Birthday.
Victoria Day celebrations were marred by tragedy in 1881, when a passenger ferry named Victoria overturned in the Thames River, near London, Ontario. The boat departed in the evening with 600 to 800 people on board— three times the allowable passenger capacity— and capsized part way across the river, drowning some 182 individuals, including a large number of children who had been with their families for Victoria Day picnics at Springbank Park. The event came to be known as the Victoria Day disaster.
Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Day