Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada

By Arthur R. M. Lower | Go to book overview

15: Victoria Regina

1837. YEAR OF BLOODSHED AND PORTENT! Armed rebellions in the Canadas! Louis Joseph Papineau scuttling over the American border and William Lyon Mackenzie fleeing for his life! Old King William dead and a new monarch on the throne--a young girl, a queen. "The twenty-fourth of May, the Queen's birthday," the children shouted lustily. The role that the day has played indicates the vast place the reign was to have in Canadian life. In Canada "the twenty-fourth of May" (or the nearest Monday) is still a public holiday, marked by fireworks--the only fireworks day of our national year; and now its relationship to monarchy has been weakened by time, duly and properly made over by the children, those unfailing realists, into "firecracker day". For their elders "the twenty-fourth of May" brings back other images--of the Queen's head on coins and stamps, of the great long summer of peace that her reign constituted for Canadians, and of the way in which time and history seemed to stop for a moment at her death.

Under Victoria, Canada, as we know it to-day, grew up. The long period of nearly sixty-five years that was her reign comprehended such a huge sector of our brief history! It saw the scattered colonies come together into the Dominion and slowly learn to face the world as one. It saw them grow and mature in a dozen different ways. And simply because it was so long and had upon it the unity of this single name and single life, men came to think of it as part of the perpetual order of things: there had always been a Queen upon the throne and her name had always been Victoria. It had been Victoria in her girlhood when old grandfathers had been boys, Victoria in her widowhood when their sons were fathers, and Victoria, the revered old grandmother, when grandsons--the grandsons of the men who had built this country--were setting off their rockets and Roman candles on the anniversary of her birth. It had always been Victoria, it seemed as if it always would

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