A backward glance at the Onion Club and the Queen’s birthday…
One of our TV networks posed a quick question to many Canadians last week. Their answers suggested few know why we celebrate May 24th.
Back in the ‘30s, as kids, we had our explanation in this rhyme: “Hooray, hooray, it’s the Queen’s Birthday. If you don’t give us a holiday we’ll all run away.”
For more detail I turned to the Mayo-Keno Bulletin, Empire Day edition, May 24th, 1924.
“May the 24th!” wrote editor Marie Fotheringham. “The day we (should) celebrate; and don’t; at least not what you could notice. It’s a big day everywhere in Canada, except in the Yukon; where in common with all other Canadian institutions, it doesn’t cut much ice.
“To illustrate our point; we were asked the other day by a well-known Yukoner, ‘What is Empire Day?’ He had been here ever since ’98 and is a nationalized citizen of many years standing and yet he did not know the origin or meaning of one of Canada’s two established national holidays.
(The other is Dominion Day, better known as Canada Day.)
“And here is another illustration that fits in,” Fotheringham continued. Last summer the Steamer Klondyke advertised an excursion to Fraser Falls on Dominion Day and the writer was asked practically the same question, ‘What day is that?’ only that time it was asked in a derisive spirit.
“Naturally we felt angry; for in common with some other red-blooded Canadians we have paid for our heritage of birth, and the bitterness of feeling was not lessened any when a little later in the day, a big steamer came in without a stitch of bunting, not even the customary flags. And there you are. The little Klondyke flying all her flags she could muster in honour of her country’s birthday, was sneered at, openly and covertly; and the big company’s boat coming into port without even the Union Jack flying; not even criticized. ‘And This Is Canada!’
“We want it plainly understood that this article is not written with the object of stirring up strife or hard feelings.
“We do not think any slight is meant by the well-bred and friendly aliens in our midst; and only a very few are ill-bred and unfriendly; but the state of things we are commenting on is mainly the fault of some of our fellow Canadians whose blood is perhaps not so red as it should be; and whose place it is to uphold their country’s dignity and honour.
“For instance, just look at how our national holidays are observed in the Yukon. A proclamation is published in the newspaper as such; and accordingly the schools are closed, also the government offices and banks. Do the government and bank officials do anything to help make the day different to other days? Naturally drawing down the most kale and having more leisure time than the rest of us; they could and should do much to ensure a successful celebration; but do they? Not on your life. They spend it as they spend Saturdays and Sundays and all other numerous holidays, that fall to their happy lot. No doubt they will say in reply to our meek complaint, ‘Why don’t you talk to the business man?’ And the ‘tired business man’ is really too tired or worried, or else he is one of those who has to stop and think, and then say, ‘Empire day! Oh yes! What is it?’
“We are not writing this in a spirit of bitterness or ill will. We know that these things exist, and as we said before, it is because our leading Canadians are indifferent. We have, we believe a local chapter of the I.O.D.E. whose constitution enjoins honour and observance of our national holidays, and to keep green the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War. May we ask how many officers of the I.O.D.E. attended Memorial Service last Armistice Day?”
So what else is new?
A tip of the hat to the Queen’s birthday, and the patriotism which once flowered in the land. And another tip of the hat to Yukoners one and all who led the way, blazed a trail and left us a fine place to live.