Excerpt from “Walk D” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on May 29th, 1856:
“Our noble Queen, God bless her, and her Majesty’s Birth-day, may it perpetually be honored by all! Saturday last the 24th inst., was a gala day in St. Catharines. … Our Town Clock was striking six, A.M., bom! bom!! bom!!! was heard, by many of the sleepy children of Morpheus; a Royal salute was fired, ushering in that natal day, whom so many millions of freemen, love to commemorate; … Cannons boomed, guns roared, flags floated in the breeze, streamers flew, music swelled, shouts went forth, fire crackers popped, ‘and all went merry as a marriage belle’ here. … In fine, whenever hereafter, this natal day shall roll around, may it ever enkindle the liveliest emotions the most patriotic feelings, and the purest loyalty in every British subjects breast. We believe, that the free, spontaneous overflowing, and outgushing devotions, loyalty and affections of a nation’s big heart at such a time and on such an occasion are more esteemed by our lovely Queen (we had almost) than even her Royal Crown itself; and we firmly believe too, that she is the most revered, highly esteemed, best and wisest sovereign that ever sat on the British Throne. We say then, God bless Victoria, our most gracious Queen, long may she live and reign. God save the Queen!”
Junius’s description goes on to tell of ceremonies, parades, illuminated houses, public buildings and streets, fireworks, speeches, toasts, balls, large amounts of food and wine…even a “mammoth circus.” Hundreds of people traveled on foot, or by horse or carriage from neighbouring towns to join in the festivities which lasted the entire day and into the night, all to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.
Victoria Day celebrations such as this began in St. Catharines in 1853 when City Council voted at the May 15th meeting to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. The festivities continued on an annual basis however by 1874 a newspaper article voiced complaints about the celebration which no longer had a military parade or salute in the Queen’s honour. As years passed by the celebrations dwindled until there was no longer a celebration at all.
Such celebrations in honour of past reigning monarchs, or current monarchs for that matter, are no longer in existence here in St. Catharines, aside from the ongoing statutory holiday “Victoria Day”. With that said, we must remember that in 1856 they did not have the same special days that we currently observe, such as Canada Day, Family Day, Labour Day and Remembrance Day. In modern day Canada, there is less of a connection to the monarchy than there once was, and celebrations of Kings and Queens has been replaced by celebrations in honour of our own country and our own people. However, I think I speak for most people when I say that I would love to experience a city-wide celebration like the one described by Junius in 1856!