Today is a holiday
across most of Canada, though there's little agreement as to why we get the day off.
August 1 (or the first Monday in August) is most commonly known as the August Civic Holiday. This is uninformative, since civic holiday is the generic term for any legally recognized holiday. For many Canadians it is a statutory holiday, though in some provinces it is only an optional holiday
acknowledged by some but not all employers.
It is still officially recognized under the name "civic holiday" in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Ontario and Manitoba, but in recent decades many provinces have co-opted August 1 as their day of official self-celebration. It is BC Day
, New Brunswick Day, Natal Day (Nova Scotia and PEI), and Saskatchewan Day.
Albertans know it as Heritage Day, a celebration of multiculturalism. Yukon's Heritage Day celebrates the history of the territory.
Québec does not recognize August 1. The Québécois provincial day is St. Jean Baptiste Day
, aka "La Fête Nationale du Québec" (The National
Holiday of Québec) is a statutory holiday on June 24. Its celebration dates to 1834, and since its inception it has been focal for the sovereigntist movement.
Newfoundland and Labrador also do not celebrate August 1. Instead, they take the first Wednesday in August off in honour of the Royal St. John's Regatta
, a rowing competition which they say is oldest organized sporting event in North America. Charmingly, if the weather is no good for rowing on that day they move the Regatta and the holiday to the next sunny day.
Various Canadian cities have their own names for the civic holiday. Brantford, Burlington, Oshawa, Ottawa, Hamilton and Peterborough name the day after the respective founders of their cities. Sarnia and Coburg recognize Confederation-era politicians. Overlapping with Caribana, Toronto has Simcoe Day (more on this in a moment). Oshawa honours Samuel McLauglin, industrialist and founder of what became GM Canada. Burlington remembers Joseph Brant, who led the Mohawk Nation against the Yankees in the American Revolutionary war. North York has Mountie Day.
Guelf celebrates August 1 as John Galt Day
. Who is John Galt?
Since 2008, Ontario also recognizes August 1 as Emancipation Day
, as do many commonwealth countries. This commemorates the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire on August 1, 1834.
Toronto has celebrated the day (Simcoe Day) as a day of victory over slavery since 1869. Upper Canada (Ontario) was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to pass anti-slavery legislation. On the first day of the first session of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, our abolitionist Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe
heard testimony form Chloe Cooley, a woman who had been kidnapped, taken to the United States and sold into slavery. The Act Against Slavery
followed shortly thereafter. It did not free the enslaved (unsurprising since many legislators were slaveowners) but it did ban the slave trade and emancipated the adult children of slaves. By 1810, no one in Upper Canada was enslaved.
is not how we celebrate the civic holiday, but I wish it was.