Sure, Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, but being a monarch, she also has an official birthday. Most people are familiar with her British one, held on a Saturday in early June when the good weather is more likely for Trooping the Colour, the huge military ceremony that marks the day.
But what may don’t realize is that Canada has its own official birthday for Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada.
When is Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday in Canada?
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, 1957, Governor General Vincent Massey gave royal assent to the following proclamation: “Whereas Our birthday falling on the twenty-first day of April it is thought fit to appoint the first Monday immediately preceding the twenty-fifth day of May as the day upon which Our birthday is to be officially celebrated in Canada in 1957 and each year thereafter.” It ends with a notice: “Of all which Our Loving Subjects and all others whom these Presents may concern are hereby required to take notice and to govern themselves accordingly.”
A late Monday in May not mean much to those outside the Commonwealth, but inside, it’s immediately recognizable as Queen Victoria’s birthday of May 24. In Canada, the three-day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer more so than a birthday party for Canada’s monarch. It’s the weekend when families rush to open their cottages and plant flowers and vegetables with a low risk of frost. The smell of barbecue mixes with fireworks. Not for nothing do lots of Canadians buy a “two-four” (24) pack of beer for the weekend.
History of May 24th holiday
In 1845, only eight years after Queen Victoria acceded the throne, the Province of Canada officially recognized May 24 as a holiday. After her death in 1901, the Parliament in Ottawa established it as a legal holiday. Since then, a few monarchs have broken with the May 24 birthday tradition, including George V (June 3) and his eldest son, Edward VIII (June 23).
When the present Queen came to the throne, Canada adopted the June date from Britain, but also continued to have the Victoria Day holiday. Finally, in 1957, the Queen’s birthday was officially moved to Victoria Day.
Flash forward to today: in addition to 2017 being Canada’s 150th birthday, it also marks the 60th anniversary of Victoria Day as Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday.
Update: Look at federal buildings on Victoria Day and you’ll see the Union Jack flying next to the Canadian Maple Leaf, even though the British official birthday of the Queen is in June. As Royal expert Richard Berthelsen explained on Twitter: “Since 1964 federal policy to fly the Royal Union Flag on Victoria Day, Commonwealth Day and Dec 11. Based on parliamentary resolution” Yup, nothing is simple when it comes to explaining the Crown and the monarchy. It isn’t expected for one logical reason. As Berthelsen says, “Because it is an accretion of custom, tradition, precedent. One couldn’t create something like this from scratch.”
Yes, we have a lot to thank Queen Victoria for.