Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819 and she became Queen of England and the British Commonwealth on June 20, 1837 at age 18. She reigned for over 63 years until her death on January 22, 1901. Canadians and Islanders first began celebrating her birthday as early as 1840 and it was called the “Queen’s Birthday” and was originally celebrated on her actual birthday of May 24th. After her death, Empire Day or Victoria Day was instituted by royal decree throughout the British Commonwealth in 1901 and in Canada it has been celebrated on the Monday just before May 25th since 1952. An editorial in the Charlottetown Guardian newspaper on May 23, 1950 labeled Victoria Day as “the finest holiday of the year – is celebrated in memory of the birthday of the great and good ruler Queen Victoria.”
On PEI and in Canada it is has typically been marked as the beginning of the summer season and the long weekend when people plant flowers and trees, put in their vegetable gardens, open their cottages, go fishing and camping, or enjoy other outdoor activities. The weather is usually warmer by this time of year and people are happy that winter was over.
Daniel Hodgson of Charlottetown made the following note in his diary on May 25, 1840, “Wind southwest and very fine. Queen’s birthday kept. A turn out of the Militia in Queen’s Square. The first summer day throughout. Warm and much smoke from fires in the forest. A bill at Gov’t House.”
On May 24, 1841, Mr. Hodgson again noted in his diary that it was the Queens’ birthday, and the weather was fine after the rain. By 10am it was cloudy again. On May 24, 1843 he noted it was the Queens’ birthday and it was rainy in the morning.
Dr. John MacKieson of Charlottetown also commented on the Queens’ birthday in a diary entry for May 24, 1861, “Clear and fine; this being the Queen’s birthday, the volunteers were received in the Barack Square and went their ? practise on the Gov’t Lawns.”
On May 24, 1881, James Hunter of Kildare South recorded that first thunder and lightning of the season was recorded.
In 1897 Charlottetown churches and other organizations celebrated the 60th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria. The weather with the exception of a slight shower was very favorable and it was estimated there were 10,000 people in Victoria Park, and many entered via the new roadway. They were entertained by a large parade.
On May 22, 1901 Henry Cundall of Charlottetown records in his diary, “Fine pleasant weather. Sowing garden seeds all morning.”
On Victoria Day, May 24, 1903 there was 2 cm of snow reported at the Charlottetown Meteorological station and Russell Maxfield of Mill River recorded on May 23, 1903, “Cold, heavy wind and snow.”
Victoria Day, May 24th , 1912, was a wet day with 22.1 mm of rain falling at Charlottetown.
Victoria Day, May 22, 1916 had delightful weather and Charlottetown was remarkably quiet as many people headed to the country to fish at their favorite stream. Several others took the ferry steamer to Pictou, NS while others went to Rocky Point and a number stayed home to attend their gardens.
Victoria Day 1929 turned out to be an exception to the wide held view that the Victoria Day weekend was the beginning of summer. A snowfall of 7.6 cm was recorded at the meteorological station in downtown Charlottetown on May 20th. The Charlottetown Guardian reported a stiff northeast wind and rain throughout the day which turned to hail and then to snow about 8pm. By 11pm over 1.5 inches (4 cm) had fallen, and it was still snowing at 12:30 the next morning. This late snowfall in May was labelled, “unprecedented in the Island’s history for some years.”
Chilly, unsettled weather was experienced during Victoria Day, May 23, 1949. The 6-mile road race was held and there was a decent showing with large crowds watching at the finishing point at the Charlottetown Armouries. A Skeet Shooting was also held at Tea Hill with 26 contestants coping with the cool, breezy weather. Heavy rain made it impossible to mark the tennis courts on Victoria Day morning, so the launch of the tennis season had to be delayed.
By 1956 the Victoria Day weekend had become a weekend for travel for many Canadians as this was the first long weekend of the summer travel season. People were travelling by auto, train, bus, and plane. Parades were also held to celebrate the former Queens’ birthday.
Angling remained one of the most popular activities on Victoria Day as on May 18, 1964, fine weather brought out droves of anglers who jammed highway going to and from their favorite fishing spots. The formal gun salutes at provincial capitals were beginning to wane as a symbol of Victoria Day celebrations.
On Victoria Day, 2012, the temperature peaked at 25.9°C just below the all-time record of 26.5°C set on May 21, 2009. The hottest temperature for May 21, 2012 was set at St. Peters where the temperature reached, 26.8°C.
Over 1000 people attended Victoria Day celebrations on May 19, 2014 with Prince Charles and wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in attendance. A royal visit always attracts a crowd of royal watchers to turn out. The Royals attended the grand opening of the new Bonshaw wilderness park.
Sources: Guardian, May 22, 1956; Guardian, May 26, 1916; Guardian, May 20, 1929; Guardian, May 25, 1949; Guardian, May 23, 1950; Guardian, May 19, 1964; Guardian, May 20, 1964; Guardian, May 21, 2011; Guardian, May 24, 2012; Guardian, May 20, 2014; Historical sketch of Prince Edward Island by James Pollard, 1898.