The Newcomer's Guide to Celebrating Victoria Day in Canada

May 16, 2024


  • Shireen Fisher

The crisp spring air in the land of maple leaves gives way to a warm breeze, the scent of barbecue smoke hangs heavy in the air, and laughter spills out from parks filled with joyful gatherings. If you have just obtained Canadian Permanent Residency and are now a newcomer to Canada, you might wonder what may be causing this sudden shift in the atmosphere. Welcome to the magic of Victoria Day in Canada.

This long weekend, celebrated on the last Monday before May 25th, is a vibrant celebration of sizzling barbecues, dazzling fireworks, and a collective exhale as Canadians embrace the long-awaited arrival of summer. But Victoria Day transcends the surface-level festivities. It carries historical significance and offers a chance to connect with the heart of Canadian culture.

Whether you have just made your move to Canada and are picturing yourself soaking up the sun on a pristine beach, cheering alongside a vibrant parade, or simply curious about the traditions that make the country tick, this guide is here to equip you for an unforgettable Victoria Day experience. So, grab your metaphorical (or literal) maple leaf and learn more about this cherished Canadian holiday.

Learn more about Canadian public holidays.

Queen Victoria and Her Birthday

Canada's tradition of celebrating the reigning monarch's birthday goes back a long way, with its roots in the reign of Queen Victoria. As early as 1845, the birthday of Queen Victoria was declared a holiday in Canada. This tradition continued after Confederation, with some adjustments for Sundays.

Following Queen Victoria's passing in 1901, the Canadian Parliament solidified a legal holiday on May 24th (or May 25th if the 24th fell on a Sunday) known as Victoria Day. Interestingly, during the reigns of King Edward VII and King George V, their birthdays were not celebrated on their actual dates but rather on Victoria Day. This practice echoed a similar tradition in Great Britain at the time.

As new monarchs ascended the throne, the celebration practices evolved. King George VI's birthday, for instance, was observed in Canada on a Thursday in early June, aligning with the UK's celebrations.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth II ushered in a significant shift. While her first birthday was celebrated in June, Canada continued to observe Victoria Day. In 1952, an amendment cemented Victoria Day as the Monday preceding May 25th. From 1953 to 1956, Queen Elizabeth II's birthday was observed on Victoria Day, and in 1957, Victoria Day was permanently designated as the Queen's birthday in Canada.

Over Queen Elizabeth II's long reign, celebrating the Sovereign's birthday on Victoria Day became ingrained in Canadian tradition. However, there was no guarantee this tradition would continue for future monarchs.

To solidify this practice, a proclamation in 2023 officially declared Victoria Day as the permanent date for celebrating the reigning monarch's birthday in Canada. This ensures the continuation of this unique Canadian tradition for all future monarchs.

What to Expect on Victoria Day in Canada

Victoria Day weekend is a time for Canadians to relax and unwind. Here are some of the most common ways Canadians celebrate.


No Canadian holiday is complete without a good old-fashioned barbecue. Gather your friends and family, fire up the grill, and enjoy some delicious food. Burgers, hot dogs, and veggie kebabs are popular choices, often accompanied by potato salad, baked beans, and refreshing summer salads.

Outdoors Activities

With warmer weather finally arriving, Victoria Day weekend is the perfect opportunity to get outside. Parks become bustling hubs of activity, filled with people playing frisbee, soccer, or simply enjoying a picnic lunch. Many Canadians also head to cottages, campsites, or beaches for a weekend getaway.

Parades and Festivals

Many towns and cities organize parades on Victoria Day with marching bands, floats, and community groups showcasing their spirit. Local festivals are also common, featuring live music, cultural performances, and activities for all ages.


As the day winds down, many communities cap off the celebrations with dazzling fireworks displays. Find a local park with a good view and enjoy the vibrant lights painting the night sky.

Sales and Shopping

Victoria Day weekend often coincides with major sales events, particularly for furniture, appliances, and outdoor gear. It is a great time to snag some deals for summer fun or spruce up your home.

Celebrating Victoria Day as a Newcomer

As a newcomer to Canada, you might feel lost regarding Victoria Day celebrations. No need to worry, though, because this long weekend is all about embracing the community spirit and welcoming the arrival of summer. Even without a pre-existing network of friends and family, there are plenty of ways to get involved and experience the magic of Victoria Day. Here are some things to do in Canada for your first Victoria Day in the country.

Immerse Yourself in Local Celebrations

There is no shortage of things to do in Canada, and you need look no further than your immediate community. Check your local community center, library, or municipal website for a calendar of Victoria Day events. Look for parades, festivals, picnics, or even historical reenactments happening in your area. Attending a parade is a vibrant way to witness the energy and spirit of the day, with marching bands, colorful floats, and local organizations showcasing their pride. Festivals often offer live music, cultural performances, delicious food trucks, and activities for all ages.

Embrace the Outdoors

Many communities organize outdoor events on Victoria Day weekend. Participate in a community barbecue, join a friendly game of frisbee in the park, or volunteer at a local beach cleanup. These events offer a chance to meet new people while enjoying the beautiful Canadian summer weather.

Connect with Your Neighbors

Knock, Knock! No need to be shy following your move to Canada. Introduce yourself to your neighbors and inquire about their Victoria Day plans. You might be surprised to find some friendly folks happy to include you in their backyard barbecues or potlucks. This is a fantastic way to break the ice, build connections, and experience authentic Canadian hospitality.

Offer a Helping Hand

If you see neighbors prepping for a barbecue or decorating their homes, offer a helping hand! Canadians appreciate a friendly gesture, which could lead to an invitation to join the festivities.

Volunteer Your Time

Many charitable organizations organize volunteer events on Victoria Day. Giving back to your community is a rewarding way to make a positive impact, meet new people who share similar values, and learn more about the local social landscape. Check with local soup kitchens, animal shelters, or environmental organizations to see if they have volunteer opportunities on Victoria Day weekend.

By taking these steps, you can transform Victoria Day from observation to a day of connection, exploration, and creating lasting memories in your new Canadian home.

Making Victoria Day Your Own

Victoria Day's beauty lies in its flexibility. You can fully immerse yourself in traditional celebrations or craft your unique way to mark the occasion. Here are some ideas to spark your creativity.

Host a Potluck Extravaganza

Invite your new neighbors or colleagues for a potluck-style gathering. Everyone brings a dish to share, creating a delicious and diverse spread. This is a fantastic way to break the ice, introduce yourselves to new people, and sample a variety of culinary delights.

Explore Canada's Natural Wonders

Canada boasts breathtaking natural landscapes. Pack a picnic basket and head to a nearby park, beach, or hiking trail for a relaxing afternoon in nature. Breathe in the fresh air, soak up the sunshine, and appreciate Canada's stunning scenery.

Dive into Canadian Cinema

If crowds and festivities are not your thing, consider a cozy movie marathon with friends or family. Choose Canadian films or documentaries to learn more about the country's rich history, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. This is a great way to spend a relaxing day while immersing yourself in Canadian culture.

Embrace the Spirit of Summer

Most importantly, remember that Victoria Day signifies the unofficial start of summer in Canada. It is a time to shed the winter blues, embrace the longer days, and celebrate the joy of the warm season. Whether you choose to relax outdoors, enjoy festive celebrations, or simply spend quality time with loved ones, make Victoria Day your own and create memories that will last a lifetime.

If you are going to be out and about on Victoria Day, take a look at our newcomer's guide to public transport in Canada.

Eat Like a Royal With Typical Victoria Day Treats

Victoria Day weekend is a culinary symphony, celebrating the bounty of fresh summer produce and indulging in classic dishes. Below is an expanded menu to tantalize your taste buds and impress your fellow celebrants.

Victoria Day Treat Description
Gourmet Burgers Take your burger game a notch higher with gourmet options. Think juicy bison burgers with caramelized onions and blue cheese, or veggie burgers packed with black beans, corn, and chipotle mayo.
Grilled Skewers Thread your favorite meats, seafood, and vegetables onto skewers for a fun and interactive grilling experience. Try marinated chicken and pineapple skewers, teriyaki salmon with colorful peppers, or veggie kabobs with halloumi cheese.
Smoked Brisket For a slow-cooked and flavorful option, consider smoking a brisket. The smoky tenderness will have everyone reaching for seconds.
Blueberry Grunt This rustic dessert features fresh blueberries simmered in a sweet sauce with a buttery biscuit crust, perfect for a casual backyard gathering.
Peaches and Cream Take advantage of the stone fruit season with simple yet elegant peaches and cream. Grill the peaches for a touch of smoky sweetness and top with dollops of whipped cream.
Nanaimo Bars A true Canadian classic, Nanaimo bars offer a delightful combination of chocolate, graham cracker crust, and creamy vanilla custard.
Seven Layer Salad A visually stunning and crowd-pleasing salad, perfect for potlucks. Layers of peas, carrots, corn, onions, green peppers, shredded cheese, and a creamy dressing make for a textural and flavor explosion.
Coleslaw A refreshing and tangy coleslaw is a must-have at any summer barbecue. Experiment with different variations like creamy coleslaw, Asian slaw with ginger dressing, or a classic vinegar-based slaw.
Summer Sangria Kick off the summer festivities with a refreshing pitcher of sangria. Use red or white wine as a base, and add chopped seasonal fruits like strawberries, peaches, and oranges.
Chicken Fried Steak (Prairies) Thinly sliced beef steak dipped in batter and deep-fried, often served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables.
Donairs (Atlantic Canada) Marinated shaved meat (usually beef or lamb) layered on pita bread with tomatoes, onions, and a creamy garlic sauce.
Poutine (Quebec) French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy, a quintessential Quebec comfort food. For a twist, try smoked meat or pulled pork poutine.
Freshly Shucked Oysters (Atlantic Canada) A taste of the ocean, freshly shucked oysters are a luxurious and impressive starter.
Grilled Watermelon with Feta and Mint This refreshing and unexpected combination of sweet and salty is a delightful way to kick off your summer feast.
Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce Light and flavorful, summer rolls filled with fresh vegetables, rice noodles, and herbs are perfect for a hot day.
Fruit Crisp Use seasonal fruits like apples, peaches, or blueberries for a comforting and delicious fruit crisp. The warm, crispy topping paired with juicy fruit is a match made in summer heaven.
Ice Cream Sundaes Set up an ice cream sundae bar with toppings like chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, and chopped nuts for a fun and interactive dessert experience.
S'mores No Victoria Day celebration is complete without the classic campfire treat. Gather around a fire pit and roast marshmallows for gooey, delicious s'mores.

With these expanded options, Victoria Day becomes a Canuck-style royal culinary adventure. So grab your spatula, fire up the grill, and celebrate the start of summer with a symphony of delicious flavors.

Beyond the Festivities: Reflecting on the Significance of Victoria Day

Victoria Day's joyous celebrations and vibrant community spirit marks more than just the unofficial start of summer. It is a chance to delve deeper into Canada's rich history, acknowledging both the triumphs and complexities of the nation's past.

A Time for Reconciliation

The relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Crown during the colonial era, a period that included the establishment of residential schools, remains a significant and sensitive chapter in Canadian history. Many Canadians use Victoria Day as a time for reflection and reconciliation. This involves acknowledging the past injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities and fostering a deeper understanding of their unique cultures and perspectives.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) serves as the permanent archive for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). The NCTR website provides access to the TRC's findings, survivor testimonies, and educational resources that shed light on the residential school system and its lasting impacts.

Taking Action

Reflecting on the past is just the first step. Here are some ways you can contribute to reconciliation efforts:

  • Attend local events: Many communities organize educational events or cultural gatherings on or around Victoria Day that focus on Indigenous history and traditions. Participating in these events demonstrates respect and allows you to learn from Indigenous knowledge keepers and storytellers.
  • Support Indigenous businesses: Seek out and support Indigenous-owned businesses in your area. This includes art galleries and restaurants to clothing stores and tourism experiences. By supporting these businesses, you contribute directly to Indigenous economic empowerment.
  • Learn an Indigenous language: Canada is home to a rich tapestry of Indigenous languages. Consider taking a language course or exploring online resources to learn basic phrases in an Indigenous language spoken in your region. This demonstrates respect and opens doors to deeper cultural understanding.


I Would Like to be Settled as a Newcomer to Canada Before Next Victoria Day. What is the Fastest Way to Achieve This Goal?

The fastest way to settle permanently in Canada is by gaining Canadian Permanent Residency via the Express Entry System. Processing for this pathway to Canada takes just six months.

Do I Need a Visitor to Come to Canada to Experience Victoria Day?

Yes. You need a Canadian visitor visa (also known as a tourist visa) to enter Canada. Two types of tourist visas are available in Canada: single-entry and multiple-entry visitor visas. Before applying for a Canadian Visa, though, check whether you just require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA).