JAIMIE VERNON – VICTORIA’S SECRET
If you’re reading this it probably means you’re broke and can’t afford a weekend off or you have no idea that this is Victoria Day weekend. It’s a celebration of our formerly longest reigning Monarch of the British Vampire, er, Empire (June 20, 1837 until her death January 22, 1901). Queen Elizabeth recently usurped that record by tiptoeing past Victoria which opens the door for us to one day celebrate Lizzy’s Day instead. Currently the weekend celebrates Vicky’s birth on May 24, 1819.
Canada began celebrating the uptight, morally incarnate emperor in 1845. Even French Canadians recognize her. Their celebration is called Fête de la Reine that roughly translated means Reluctant Festival For Our Despised British Overlord. The rest of the British colonies call it Empire Day in recognition of the fact that everything was swell and peachy for them until she died after which everyone started bitching about slaves and poor work conditions and the declining quality of imported tea. The struggle to be party animals was real.
Already a Queen prior to 1840 (and quite the looker in her younger days by all accounts), Victoria was like all royal blood who found that suitors were slim pickens when you were stuck inside all day learning how to sip from fine Dalton China with an arthritic looking pinky finger or trying to get in and out of corsets for no other reason than you’ve got to pee or…breathe. Out of pressure and poor air quality choices inside the castle, she married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. They had nine children – officially making each Teutonic by blood which became a whole embarrassing crisis for the future Royals when wars kept breaking out with Germany. In order to not be mistaken for Nazi sympathizers (idiot savante Edward VIII notwithstanding) we know them today by the less Germanic name of Windsor.
But Victoria’s shadow still looms large in Canada. Aside from giving her May 24 as a dedicated day for cottage openings nationwide, we’ve gone about willy-nilly naming shit after her. Most of that stems from the fact that she was the Queen during Confederation in 1867 – carrying the torch forward on her grandfather’s acknowledgement that North Americans were separate people from the British. We asked Vicky nicely if we could form our own Dominion and she said, “Sure, why not. Just avoid the French.”
And so it began…the steamship that brought delegates from the Province of Canada (as it was named then) to Prince Edward Island in 1864 for the Charlottetown Conference preceding Confederation itself was named the Queen Victoria. She never visited but sent her kids along as official representatives.
The Canadian Royal Heritage Trust writes about her distant but hands-on approach to Canada: “Queen Victoria twice chose Ottawa as the capital, first in 1857 for the Province of Canada and then again in 1867 for the Dominion of Canada. She named British Columbia in 1858 and the City of New Westminster in 1859, and chose the pitcher plant as the flower of Newfoundland in 1865. She also assigned the coats of arms of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick in 1868. She gave the royal charters of the universities of Laval in1852 and of Trinity in 1851. In 1879 she contributed money for the preservation of the historic walls of Quebec City and paid for the erection of the city’s Kent Gate in memory of her father. After the great fire of 1890 at the University of Toronto, Victoria made a personal donation towards the restoration. Regina and Victoria were named in her honour, and the Province of Alberta after her fourth daughter Princess Louise Alberta. More counties, districts, villages, streets, parks and schools are named after her than after any other individual in Canada. The main roads of innumerable Canadian communities, as large as the City of Toronto or as small as the Village of Neustadt, Ontario, are named “Queen Street”.
As part of the Canadian reaction to the Annexation Manifesto of 1849 (a drive by some Montreal business leaders for union with the United States), the Queen’s Birthday became a major national holiday and is still celebrated each year on the Monday preceding the 25th May. (Victoria Day, as it became in 1901 in memory of the Queen, is also the celebration of the reigning monarch’s official birthday.) Schoolchildren once invented the chant: “The twenty-fourth of May is the Queen’s birthday. If we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away”. ”
Despite her righteous moral stand on everything from dress codes to sex impropriety to God, she was merciful to her subjects. She pardoned William Lyon MacKenzie and his cohorts in leading the uprising in York (Toronto) during the Rebellion of 1837 and she had no patience for slavery in America giving her blessings to any person of colour wanting to make Canada a home – allowing the Underground Railway to act as a legitimate sanctuary.
We’ve named cities after her – Victoria, British Columbia and Regina, Saskatchewan – and the Ford Crown Victoria, Mother of All Cop Cars was built in her name. Leonard Cohen immortalized her as did others from various parts of the Empire.
And maybe this Canned Heat styled raver by The Kinks if you extrapolate the theme.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon