By Kate Butler
Published May 15 2018
“The 24th of May the Queen’s birthday! If we don’t get a holiday we’ll all run away!”
For years this rhyme was heard around the schoolyards of Haliburton County.
Though today we’re perhaps more likely to refer to the holiday as the 24th of May (even when it’s not on the 24th!) this unofficial kickoff to the Canadian summer and cottaging season simply wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Queen Victoria.
There can be no doubt that Victoria was a powerful woman who ruled a vast empire. Many of our modern customs were popularized by her court including Christmas trees and white wedding dresses but the question remains why do we mark her birthday each year and not any other British monarch’s?
The answer seems to lie in the timing. By the time of Canada’s Confederation Victoria had been on the throne for 30 years and she was widely considered to be “The Mother of Confederation.” Even before Confederation her birthday had already been widely celebrated in the Province of Canada. In fact in 1854 5000 people had gathered in downtown Toronto to mark her 35th birthday – a sizable number considering the population of the city at the time was only 30000!
At the Haliburton Highlands Museum Victoria Day marks the beginning of our summer programming season. To mark the weekend we’ll be hosting a special family friendly tea from 1:30 to 3 p.m. – enjoy tea and treats make a craft and learn a bit more about the woman who gave the Victorian era its name.
Though tea is often linked with the Victorian era the beverage itself actually first began to become popular in Britain in the 17th century. By the 1750s it had become the nation’s beverage of choice despite being expensive enough to be kept under lock and key in many homes. The occasion known as afternoon tea however does have its roots in the Victorian era. It’s reputed that the Duchess of Bedford was responsible for the concept as she was known to become peckish around four o’clock since the evening meal in her home was served at the fashionably late hour of eight o’clock.
She would request that tea cakes and sandwiches be brought to her rooms each day. (Luckily the Earl of Sandwich had invented the portable meal that bears his name in the late 18th century!)
In Haliburton tea was long the drink of choice. Among our early European settlers a pot was always to be found on the stove and coffee was exceedingly rare. The lumber camps were also a great place of tea consumption. We know that a dollar a month would buy the men working in the camps their tea and we’re quite certain that the comfort that cup brought after a long day’s work in the woods was felt to be worth every penny! Why not raise a cup this weekend in celebration of our community’s history? We’ll have the kettle on!
Kate Butler is director of the Haliburton Highlands Museum.