Most Canadians are well versed in the stories of Christmas and Easter, and we all know that Canada Day recognizes the birthday of our nation. But for many, the first-Monday-of-August long weekend (often referred to on calendars as “Civic Holiday”) is shrouded in mystery and, at times, confusion.
Let us clear the air on this one.
A long time ago there was a lengthy and dreary gap between Canada Day and Labour Day where no holiday occurred. The first Monday of August, occurring right in the middle between the two, seemed like the perfect place for a summer holiday.
But there is more to it than that. Few know that what is most widely known as “Civic Holiday” actually has ties to the abolition of slavery which officially took place on August 1, 1834. Some communities across Canada call this “Emancipation Day.”
Many Ontarians would be surprised to learn that “Civic Holiday” is not the official name of our optional Monday off, and that it is only a statutory holiday in Nunavut and Northwest Territories.
Across Canada, the day is known as “British Columbia Day,” “New Brunswick Day” or “Saskatchewan Day,” depending on where you are. Alberta calls it “Heritage Day,” and in Nova Scotia and PEI, they celebrate “Natal Day.”
In Ontario, the holiday has many aliases. It began in 1869 when Toronto City Council marked it as a “day of recreation.” Later on, Burlington recognized the Monday as “Joseph Brant Day,” while Brantford, Oshawa, Ottawa and Sarnia all followed suit with names of their own (Founders’ Day, McLaughlin Day, Colonel By Day, and Alexander Mackenzie Day, respectively). Municipalities across Ontario have a range of local names for the holiday honouring different historical figures, yet most Ontario workplaces simply go with “Civic Holiday”.
Today, Toronto’s official name for the first-Monday-of-August long weekend is “Simcoe Day,” and it coincides with Toronto’s annual Caribana festival. And although many organizations give employees the day off (Career Edge Organization included), this Monday is not a “statutory holiday” nor is it recognized or mentioned in Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.
So this Monday, as you enjoy your “freedom” from the office, take a moment to reflect on what it means to have freedom in Canada. Remember that, contrary to popular belief, this holiday is more than just an extra day in cottage country.