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Why All The Fuss?

by Elaine Weeks and Laryssa Landale

“[Victoria’s] Diamond Jubilee was, perhaps, the most conspicuous demonstration in the whole 19th century...the celebration was planned, above all, to demonstrate the extent and power of the British Empire and the unity and loyalty of all its constituent members, simultaneous demonstrations were held in all the British colonies and dependencies...”
The Life of Queen Victoria and the story of her reign, Charles Morris, LL.D., 1901.

Queen Victoria with Beatrice. Victoria’s rumoured other great love, John Brown stands behind them. Photo courtesy Robert Irvin

Tremendous pomp and circumstance were awarded Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria on her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. This year, England will honour Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee with similar brouhaha.

In this area, celebrations for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897were planned long in advance and were much anticipated. Walkerville was decorated with Union Jacks and ribbons; there was a lavish parade, a message to her Canadian subjects from the Queen herself, and a cornerstone ceremony for a beautiful fountain designed by the eminent American architect Albert Kahn.

Once prominently displayed near the foot of Second Street in Olde Walkerville (now Devonshire Road), the Diamond Jubilee Fountain, or Victoria Fountain as it is known today, has been through a lot since its dedication.

Neglected and vandalized after Walkerville was amalgamated with Windsor in 1935, it received a face-lift several years back (although its crown was never replaced) but is often the target of graffiti artists and bored neighbourhood kids. It is likely that many people under forty who happen upon the fountain, now tucked behind Willistead Manor, are unlikely to know anything of its’ importance - even though an inscription runs around the top of the edifice referring to Queen Victoria and her “glorious sixty-year reign”, and the fact that we celebrate her memory with a holiday every May. Not to mention that two regional capitals– Victoria and Regina– were named for her (there are more Victorias in Canada than any other place name and supposedly more in this country then any other in the world!)

It’s no secret that Canadians are certifiably ignorant of their history. When combined with the fact that the significance of the Royal family to Canadians has diminished considerably over the last 100 years, then is it really not that surprising that one person, when quizzed about the fountain, confused it with the Peace Fountain on our waterfront?

A Crash Course on England’s Longest Serving Monarch

She was born at Kensington Palace, London, on May 24, 1819, the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III. Edward died eight months after her birth and she became heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in succession had no legitimate children who survived.

Following her uncle William IV’s death, Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837 only a few days after turning eighteen. Her reign marked the beginning of a transformation for the British monarchy. She was faced with the task of defining a new role for the monarchy amidst a changing government. The crown retained the right to be consulted and to advise on all parliamentary matters. She was quite diligent in attending to this duty and as a result successfully maintained the influence and strength of the monarchy.

In 1840, she married her cousin Prince Albert and they had nine children between 1840 and 1857. Most of her children married into other royal families of Europe.

There were many milestones reached during Queen Victoria’s dominion. Amongst them were the first national postal system, “The Penny Post”, in 1840, compulsory education for all children in 1870, and the creation of the title Empress of India which all future British sovereigns would also hold until India gained independence in 1947. Victoria also has the distinction of being Britain’s longest-reigning monarch thus far, and ruler of the largest empire in history - “an empire upon which the sun never set”.

When she ascended the throne in 1837 the Queen had to contend with a low level of popular respect for the monarchy. Her strong ethics and personal tastes, won her great respect early on in her sovereignty. Her high popularity was not unwavering, however. When her husband died prematurely of typhoid fever in 1861, she was devastated and went into a period of mourning and almost complete seclusion, (for which she was widely criticized), lasting more than ten years. For the rest of her reign, she wore black. She became known as the Widow at Windsor and was the topic of an unflattering poem by Rudyard Kipling of the same name.

Before the end of her reign, however, Queen Victoria would inspire great admiration, and a love for the crown, in the hearts of her subjects, both in England and the rest of the British Empire. Her courageous attitude towards seven attempts on her life between 1840 and 1882 greatly strengthened her popularity.

This legacy seems to have been nurtured by successive monarchs, some more successfully than others. The recent outpouring of affection surrounding the events of the Queen Mother’s death is a strong indication that the emotional connection between the British Monarch and its people endures.

Upon Victoria’s death in 1901, England went into court mourning for a year, and half-mourning for a year after that.

Her Mark on Canada

Queen Victoria’s reign also marked significant changes in the Canadian political landscape. She gave royal approval to the British North America Act in 1867, which was brought into effect on July 1 of that year. The colonies of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were therefore united, creating the Dominion of Canada. At her suggestion Ottawa was named the capitol of Canada.

Also under her rule, the General Service Medal for Canada was issued. This medal was created to honour members of the Imperial and Canadian forces who had taken part in quelling raids made by the American Fenians (an Irish American group who attempted to invade Canada in 1866 and 1870) and Riel’s first rebellion. The red-white-red colour combination, now the foundation of the Canadian flag and Canada’s official colours, first appeared in connection to this country as the ribbon of this medal.

Due to her overall popularity and lengthy reign, Queen Victoria’s birthday was established as a holiday in Canada West (Ontario) in 1845. Previously, the sovereign’s birthday was not celebrated in the North American colonies. After her death in January 22, 1901, May 24th was declared Victoria Day and made a national holiday through an act of parliament. In 1957, Victoria Day was permanently appointed as the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II in Canada.

So this Victoria Day (which incidentally, will be on May 20th, 101 years after Victoria’s death and the first National Victoria Day) - amidst all the gardening, camping and barbecuing - raise a glass to Queen Victoria. Honour her for more than giving you another three-day weekend.



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