burning_schoolhouse

 

If you recognize this image of the school house fireworks, you were not born in this century, and you definitely spent part of your childhood in Eastern Canada.Trust the New York Times and Ian Austen to explore Victoria Day, and some of the customs around this holiday.

Canada’s Victoria Day is unique in that it marks the birthday of Queen Victoria. She was the Queen when Canada became a country 150 years ago. She was born on May 24 and the Province of Canada (at that time what is now Ontario and Quebec) marked her birthday. And it was a great moment when parliament in 1952 made a long weekend for everyone by making Victoria Day the Monday before May 25. Brilliant move.

In the last century people toasted the Queen, and if you lived in Eastern Canada there were buckets of sand at the end of driveways and people burned paper school houses in the evening. They were not that exciting to watch. Once lit they did burn, but without any fantastical experience that children would remember. There were however, other noisy fireworks and hand-held sparklers.

But back to those burning schoolhouses. Why did we burn them? As Austen notes “While Canada Day has more or less taken over in terms of fireworks, during my childhood Victoria Day was also Firecracker Day. Family fireworks shows traditionally ended with the Burning Schoolhouse. Apparently a creation of a Canadian fireworks company and largely unknown outside Canada, the blue and red cardboard buildings perhaps reflected the holiday’s proximity to the end of school. Or maybe just general juvenile animosity.”

Austen suggests that Victoria Day is the day that people with summer cottages and shacks open them-I think Victoria Day is also generally the day where you are finally safe to plant those tender annual plants that you bought at the local plant sale, and send your houseplants out to the balcony for a summer holiday. It’s also the true start to being outdoors, biking more, and enjoying long sunlit evenings.  A true Vancouver tradition.