Sunday, 18 May 2014

Victoria Day and La Journée Nationale des Patriotes: One Holiday, Two Sides of History

May Long Weekend, May Run, May Two-Four...whatever you decide to call it, Monday, May 19, 2014, is Victoria Day in Canada. For many, it's simply a time for general spring-related festivities: going up to the cottage for the first time in the season, gardening, barbeques, and fireworks.

But there's far more to the holiday than that if we were to look into its history. Victoria Day was first declared as a holiday in 1845, and was celebrated on Queen Victoria's actual birthday - May 24.

Statue of Queen Victoria outside the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria, B.C.
Changed to the first Monday prior to May 25 in any given year in 1953, it now also serves as the day on which the ruling British monarch's birthday is celebrated, regardless of whether he or she was actually born then. Queen Elizabeth II, for example, was actually born on April 21, but her "official" birthday is still marked on Victoria Day in Canada. Because of this, where there are at least two flagpoles, federal buildings, airports, and military bases will fly both the Canadian flag and the Union Jack on that day.

(Note: I actually have yet to see this arrangement in person; if anyone has, and has photos, please let me know in a comment - thanks!)

Therefore, it is fitting - and likely no coincidence - that this year's Victoria Day will coincide with a royal visit as the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall take part in a tour of the Maritimes and Manitoba from May 18 through to May 21, 2014. For those in Canada who like to uphold its British heritage and the historical ties with the British monarchy, there is no better way of celebrating Victoria Day.

However, there is, at least, one part of Canada where the story is significantly different: the Province of Quebec. There, Victoria Day (which translates to "Fête de la Reine" - "the Queen's birthday" - in French), has a very different name: La Journée Nationale des Patriotes (National Patriots' Day).

A poster produced for La Journée Nationale des Patriotes in Quebec. You can see here the tricolour flag of the Patriotes, as well as the slogan of one particular branch, called the Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty): "En Avant!"
La Journée Nationale des Patriotes commemorates the Patriotes: French-Canadians who participated in the ultimately unsuccessful Lower Canada Rebellion against the British colonial administration in 1837-1838. The outcome of this rebellion was the merging of Upper Canada (English-speaking) and Lower Canada (French-speaking), and many French-Canadians feared that this would ultimately lead to their assimilation into English-Canadian culture. Because of this, the Patriotes represent the need for Quebec to uphold its own distinctive culture and identity. When the holiday was instated in 2003 by the Premier of Quebec, Bernard Landry, he proclaimed that this would allow Quebecers "to underline the importance of the struggle of the patriots of 1837–1838 for the national recognition of our people, for its political liberty and to obtain a democratic system of government."

How does any of this mesh with a holiday that, for many, seems to be a celebration of Canada's British heritage, and Canada's position as a constitutional monarchy and a member of the British Commonwealth? Well, while Queen Victoria is remembered as Canada's "Mother of Confederation", since the nation was first granted its independence in 1867 during her reign, there is no doubt that, in popular consciousness, she is still the figurehead of the British Empire during the 19th century. A representative, if you will, of the British and Anglophone hegemony in Canada that arguably still persists today. Yet Canada is not just English; it is French, First Nations, and many other cultures besides.

Given this, La Journée Nationale des Patriotes is Quebec's message to the rest of Canada, and one that could be echoed by many others here who have been relegated to the sidelines over the years: we still exist, and our history is just as important as yours.

So no matter what you decide to call the holiday that is marked across Canada on Monday, May 19, 2014, know that its very existence is a testament to our nation's diversity in culture, and in history.

Note: I would like to thank a friend I had a few years ago, Jean-Philippe Bonneville from the Montreal area, for first introducing me to La Journée Nationale des Patriotes. I hadn't heard about it at all until he mentioned it to me back in 2011, and that's become the core inspiration for this post.


Department of Canadian Heritage. "Victoria Day".  Government of Canada, 1 May 2013. Web. 17 May 2014.

Office of the Premier of Quebec. "Congé férié à l’occasion de la Journée nationale des Patriotes". Gouvernement de Québec, 24 Nov. 2002. Web. 17 May 2014.

The Canadian Press. "Prince Charles, Camilla set to arrive in Halifax for whirlwind tour." CBC News. 18 May 2014. Web. May 18 2014.

Image Credits

Photograph of British Columbia Parliament Buildings (c) Kita Inoru (taken 25 May 2011)

Poster for La Journée des Patriotes (c) (retrieved 17 May 2014)


  1. Very interesting and informative Kita! So, am I to take then that the actual date re: Quebecois history is not particularly significant during 1837-38... but that it was deliberately proclaimed in contrast/competition (or whatever relationship you want to infer) to Victoria Day?

    I am also interested as to why the tricolour flag of the Patriotes is green, white and red... do you know? I would have thought it would be blue, white and red like the French flag...?

    We "celebrate" the Queen's Birthday here as well, though it isn't a national day as such and there aren't any real celebrations. We have a public holiday that falls in June (even though her birthday is not then!)

    Are you going to try and see Prince William while he is in Canada?

    Lastly I've seen a lot of things that happened in Canada on the 18th of May, the fire of Montreal in 1765, the founding of Montreal (which I briefly discussed with you on Pinterest) and that the First United Empire Loyalists reached Parrtown, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada after leaving the United States in 1783. Busy busy!

    And, Happy Victoria Day/La Journée Nationale des Patriotes to you! I know it isn't the 19th yet, but it is here :)

    1. Well, you've certainly given me a number of possible stories to chase here! I'm not entirely sure why La Journée Nationale des Patriotes is on the same day as Victoria Day: whether it's a deliberate statement or a decision to take advantage of an existent long weekend. That'll be worth looking into, though.

      As for the flag of the Patriotes, I'm not surprised at all that it's not identical to the French one. Since the Seven Years War, Quebec has set itself apart from France - which it believes abandoned it to the British in favour of the Antilles - and the French Revolution certainly destroyed a good deal of the connection that was left. People in Lower Canada may have been sympathetic to the Revolution at first, but the execution of Louis XVI, for many of them, was simply going too far. Add that they had some very vocal English Canadians in their midst who were constantly trying to cast doubt upon their loyalty to Britain during that time, and it's all going to become a right regular mess.

      In their ideals, the Patriotes had a good deal in common with the American Patriots from just several decades prior - note how they chose the name "Sons of Liberty" for themselves, just like Patriot groups in the Thirteen Colonies did before the American Revolutionary War broke out. ;) As for the flag and its colours, there are a few theories out there; one I particularly like is that the green represents the Irish who were in Lower Canada at the time, and who had more to relate them with the French Canadians than the English administration.

      And I'm not going to see Prince William, because he's not here :P It's Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales) that's coming to Canada - and even then, not to the area I'm in.

      Finally, thanks for sharing those tidbits from Canada's history on May 18. Looks like I've learned something new myself today :)

    2. Prince Charles yep duh. Not paying attention properly. You know what time it is here hehehe.

      Well you've given ME a lot to think about! I've learnt to pay a great deal more attention to Canadian/American history because of you and Linda.

      I've set up a Tumblr blog in prelude to my proper blog (getting there), so I've done a bit of "this day in history" the past 2 days. It's darn exhausting though.

      I also like the idea that the green was inclusive of the Irish, I think if that is the case, it is a highly symbolic and political choice, considering the relationship (or lack-there-of) between Ireland and England.

      As for the fire at Montreal, I think it must have been significant. It destroyed quite a lot of the city I think. I was going to do a post on Tumblr about the founding of Montreal but it was so complex that I could not digest it into a small Tumblr post.

      I did read a little about the pre-existing First Nations settlement there of Hochelaga, inhabited by an Iroquoian people that were culturally distinct from other Iroquoians (?). I saw a fascinating engraving of the settlement - it was circular! I'm LEARNDING!