As we get set to enjoy the May long weekend, it is a chance to take stock of what the next few weeks hold. The school days after Victoria Day are a bit like sledding downhill on an icy slope – straight down and fast with little opportunity to catch your breath! We hope all of our Matthews Hall families will have the chance to enjoy the extra time off this weekend, while bracing for a busy end to the school year.
Why is this weekend important to Canada and called “Victoria Day”? The holiday is known as Victoria Day because it was originally celebrated in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday, which fell on May 24. During her lifetime, Queen Victoria reigned over the United Kingdom and the British Empire, of which Canada was a part. Her reign lasted for 63 years and seven months – a record that was beaten in September of 2015 by the late Queen Elizabeth II!
In 1901 after the death of Queen Victoria, Canada continued to celebrate her birthday every May because her reign coincided with Canadian Confederation and the formation of the new Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The only queen with this name, Victoria is associated with a distinctly “Victorian” era in the world’s history. This time period continues to touch and influence Canadian identity today in ways seen and unseen.
While our school was founded after the death of Queen Victoria, Miss Kate Matthews was born during her reign in Britain and immigrated to Canada while Victoria was on the throne. In the early days of our school, the influence of British schooling and educational traditions were very much a part of the life of Miss Matthews’ School from 1918 to her retirement in 1950. Our school still recognizes this historic connection on Founder’s Day in February and at Closing Exercises, held each year in June at St. Paul’s Cathedral – first home of Matthews Hall and Kate Matthews’ parish church.
It doesn’t take a lot of searching to see the imprint of Victoria’s reign on Canada and on our City of London, with their very British street names and institutions. From the capital city of British Columbia (…and my alma mater, Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario!) to the River Thames, Victoria Hospital and our beautiful park downtown, Canadians and Londoners alike celebrate and recognize Victoria Day for a variety of reasons.
However, not every Victoria Day in London has been one of happy memories. On May 24, 1881, the stern-wheeler ferry SS Victoria capsized in the Thames River close to Cove Bridge in West London. Approximately 200 passengers drowned in the shallow river, making it one of the worst disasters in London’s history, and is now dubbed “The Victoria Day Disaster”. At the time, London’s population was relatively low, so it was hard to find a person in the city who did not have a family member affected by the tragedy. The surrounding area where the vessel sank is today the West London suburb of Kensal Park, and Greenway Off-Leash Dog Park as well as the Greenway Wastewater Treatment Centre.
It is hard to find a part of Canada (or London) untouched by the life and legacy of Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted from 1837 to 1901!
Whether Victoria Day weekend is cottage time for you, or times for bonfires, golf or camping, we hope that your family will enjoy what has come to be known as “May 2-4” weekend.
Today, it’s really more about family, friends, and the chance to enjoy time together as the summer approaches.
That being said, I guess we can still “sing” Happy Birthday to Queen Victoria and “thank her” for this annual tradition!
Ric Anderson, Head of School