Only in Canada, Eh?

Happy Simcoe Day!

What’s that you say?  Never heard of it?  You’re in good company—or numerous company, at least.  Most Torontonians have never heard of it either, and they have less excuse than you do: it’s been their version of the August Civic Holiday since 1968.

While I hate to admit to common cause with the big T-O, I’m a little befuddled myself.  A displaced Albertan of just a few years’ standing, I wandered online to check out what Ontario communities were doing for Heritage Day.  You know, the first-Monday-in-August holiday.  Well, no, you probably don’t know, because it’s Heritage Day only in Alberta.  That was news to me.    

I was innocently looking for a festival with ethnic dancing and food booths, but a little closer than Calgary or Edmonton.  Innocent perhaps, but not prudent: I was almost trapped in a quagmire of strange holidays, unknown holidays, celebrations of the first-Monday-in-August on another day in August, and missing-in-action celebrations.  All that was without even trying to reconcile the conflicts.

If I still needed to be convinced that the world-wide web is just what Douglas Adams said it was—a big, incoherent conversation (as opposed, say, to an authoritative source of information)—this search would have done it.  I count myself lucky to have escaped with my sanity.

Let’s go through it slowly.

Canada Post lists five versions of the August holiday and includes Newfoundland & Labrador as participants (erroneously).  Go figure.  This is the same organization that delivered to me—on a strikingly hot day in July—two letters from the preceding February and one letter postmarked from August of the previous year.

Not to be outdone, another site lists more than 11 holidays across the country, distinguishing the provinces and territories that treat it as a stat (five) from those that don’t (five again), and identifying those that don’t celebrate it at all (three—and what were they thinking?).

But wait, there’s more.  Or fewer.  A gift basket site lists just seven versions of the holiday, but includes two for PEI.  You might be thinking that a gift basket site lacks credibility (as opposed, say, to a major Crown corporation’s site), but remember PEI’s history of overdoing things.  Think of its Members-of-Parliament-to-population ratio, its population–to-golf-course ratio.  Indeed, more online exploration suggests that ‘two versions’ might be a low estimate.

One site advises that PEI government employees in Summerside get a holiday on Lobster Carnival parade day (and people make fun of Calgarians and the Stampede!).  West of Summerside they celebrate the standard civic holiday.  East of Charlottetown they get Gold Cup and Saucer parade day, ‘Gold Cup and Saucer’ being a harness race (and people make fun of, oh, never mind).  What happens to the poor devils trapped east of Summerside but west of Charlottetown is a mystery.  And while we’re talking mysteries, many sites aver that PEI celebrates Natal Day: the PEI Official Tourism Site isn’t one of them.

Amidst all the conflicting information, there is one unequivocal fact: it’s a civic holiday.  That is, of course, except where it isn’t.  In a country where confusion over matters constitutional has been raised to an art form, provincial and territorial governments just can’t stop themselves from horning in on the act.

Some provinces look to be scoring division-of-powers points where they can: We may not be able to push back on the feds, but at least we can push the cities around. And so some Canadians celebrate a nominally ‘civic holiday’ named BC Day, Saskatchewan Day, or New Brunswick Day.  Calling it Heritage Day in Alberta doesn’t fool us: provincial politicians have shamelessly co-opted a day that rightly belongs to the cities.

Other provinces go further, ignoring this optional holiday altogether.  The two provinces whose residents speak another language celebrate on the same date, albeit not the same day, if you see what I mean.  Quebecers celebrate their variously characterized religious/provincial/national holiday on June 24, while Newfoundlanders (and now Labradorians, one presumes) celebrate Discovery Day.  Yukon celebrates its own Discovery Day on the third Monday in August.  I haven’t yet discovered what was wrong with using June 24 or the first Monday in August for the Yukon event, but I’m confident it was Something Important.

Ontario goes its own way—no surprise there to a Westerner—with cities that celebrate the civic holiday but not under that name.  A perplexity of holidays results, causing some websites to impose a false order.  But foisting Simcoe Day—largely unknown even in its rightful home—onto the whole of Ontario unwisely fuels Toronto’s self-image as centre of the universe.  Besides, the rest of Ontario is already full up, thanks very much, celebrating Joseph Brant Day (Burlington, since 1980), Founders’ Day (Brantford, 1982), McLaughlin Day (Oshawa, 1983), and Colonel By Day (Ottawa, 1996), among others.

There is, however, some true order amidst the chaos.  Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories still celebrate the Civic Holiday in name as well as in fact.  Bless their hearts.

There’s one more unequivocal fact: the view is clearer from a distance.  On the Crayola-dot-com site, which I’m betting originates in the US-of-A, they offer craft ideas and lesson plans for the ‘Canadian August Civic Holiday’.  No hint of multiple names, competing agendas, constitutional complexities or provinces on the sidelines.  But lesson plans?  In early August?  Maybe they think the kids are already back in school, after the harvest.  It comes early, up here in the Great White North.

Let this be a lesson to all of us: if something looks simple, it’s only because we have not yet begun to understand it.  As for me, let it not be said that I can’t adapt.  I’m off to find some haggis at a harness race.  Happy Colonel By Day, everyone.  Cheers!

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10 Comments

  1. Marion

    I have no problem with ‘August Civic Holiday’. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what it is/was: a holiday created by government so we’ll have another long weekend in the summer. Fine with me.

    I hadn’t heard of Colonel By Day until just this past week when I went to the Ottawa Public Library to pick up a bedraggled copy of Brave New World and saw a sign indicating that the library would be “closed on Colonel By Day”. Funny though, I’ll be working on Monday, as I have been all weekend … the life of a consultant. No civic holiday this year, but it’s OK, I had all of July off. 🙂

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Ahh, yes, the consultant’s life of leisure… As we sometimes say on proposals as the weekend approaches: Thank God it’s Friday! Just two more working days ’til Monday.

        1. Isabel Gibson

          There you go! And as friends who’ve worked on project start-ups say: We’re down to working half days – 7 to 7. No wonder Europeans think North Americans are crazy for work.

  2. Jim Taylor

    You might keep Remembrance Day in mind for later this year. When I moved from BC to Ontario, way back in 1968, I assumed that Remembrance Day was a statutory holiday. Well, it was in BC. About 11:00 a.m., I realized that the radio stations had made no mention of a holiday that day. I called the office. They were wondering what had happened to me. I got quite a razzing when I finally arrived.
    I haven’t tried Googling to see which provinces now make Remembrance Day a holiday. But I’m sure there’s equal confusion.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      I seem to remember getting caught in a similar bind but without even changing provinces! The university shut down for Remembrance Day, and I had been in school for ever, or so it seemed. But it wasn’t a ‘stat’ – so real schools didn’t shut down. I confidently made other plans for my Grade 1 son (and me) that day – only to drive by the schoolyard first thing and see kids everywhere. Oops. Plan B, coming up.

  3. Vince

    Sorry not to conduct my own research, but I’m 6500 miles southeast of my desktop. What does Bill Gates call 1 August (in Outlook Calendar)? Isn’t Microsoft the true authority on all things contemporary?
    For what it’s worth, I “worked” most of the weekend too.
    Thanks for another great read.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      It seems Mr. Gates has not yet heard of the first-Monday-in August holiday. Maybe someone should let him know…. He might like to fund a name-standardization project, for which I could be handsomely (or beautifully) compensated.

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