Monday, 18 May 2009

Why It's a Holday: Not Victoria, But Patriotes like Robert Nelson

It’s a holiday here. It used to be called Victoria Day (and still is in the Rest of Canada) or the Fête de Dollard, the first name reflecting the fact that it was the day Queen Victoria’s birthday was celebrated, and the other, commemorating a battle between Amerindians and French settlers. Neither one seems to me to be worth a holiday, although heaven knows it’s nice to have one this time of year.

Obviously I wasn’t the only one who disliked the names, so about five years ago, Quebec renamed it the Journée des Patriotes, in honour of the Rebellions of 1837-38, which was the nearest thing to a revolution Canada ever experienced. That’s something I can heartily endorse. Not only were the Patriotes active in both Lower and Upper Canada but they were part of that great wave of liberalization that swept the world in the 1830s. Some of the things advanced during the struggle weren’t brought about until well in the 20th century. In fact I was so taken by the Patriot cause that I wrote a book about one of them, an Anglophone named Robert Nelson.

But actually what happens this weekend is that people got out and plant. Common wisdom is that you shouldn’t put out annuals before this weekend—fixed as the third in May—because of the risk of frost earlier. All weekend garden centres were full of people buying (the fête de dollars?), and front yards, of people working. I spent Saturday planting and transplanting and several hours yesterday cutting back lilacs and pulling up weeds. Today it’s cool and lovely: great weather for new plants to settle in and for us to enjoy a suddenly blooming back yard.

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