Enjoy your day off next Monday. That’s if you live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Prince Edward Island or Manitoba. If you live in the other five provinces or three territories – or are a federal civil servant – than put your nose to the grindstone to start another workweek.
When it comes to having a mid-winter holiday in February, something long argued for by those who observed when it comes to the cold and daylight-deficient Canadian winter, it’s a long time between New Years Day on Jan. 1 and Good Friday in late March or April, it depends on where you live whether that argument has prevailed.
Employers – surprise – have never been as fond of the idea of what they sometimes call “yet another paid holiday” than their employees.
In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, Monday, Feb. 20 is Family Day. In Prince Edward Island it is Islander Day and here in Manitoba, since 2008, Louis Riel Day.
But don’t for a minute think it is only the third Monday in February holiday that divides Canadians between carefree holidayers and working proles. The truth is we’re a patchwork quilt of laws, custom and historical past practices from sea-to-sea-to-sea when it comes to provincial and national paid statutory holidays and non-holidays. Listing all the variations, never mind the rationale, would be better served by a flow chart than an editorial, but we’ll include a few examples.
The next national statutory holiday is Good Friday April 6. More or less. It is in nine provinces and three territories. In Québec, the bastion of Roman Catholicism in Canada until 1966 and the Quiet Revolution, it now falls under the category of “optional” holiday. That’s because in Québec there’s a bit of a wrinkle where either Good Friday or Easter Monday must be given as a paid statutory holiday, however, most employers, truth be told, give both days. But Easter Monday can be given in lieu of Good Friday in Québec.
Statutory holidays are New Year's Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day – these days are celebrated nationwide and are paid days off for employees. Federally regulated employees also get Easter Monday (see, missing that February holiday wasn’t so bad, really), Victoria Day, Thanksgiving and Boxing Day off and it is common practice, however not required, for non-federal employees to get these holidays off as well. Confused yet?
And speaking of “optional” holidays, how about maybe hoisting a pint to St. Paddy all you expatriates from The Rock here in Thompson? In Newfoundland and Labrador, St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17 is not a public statutory holiday, under the Shop Closing Act, but it is one of the “traditional” holidays where stores are not required to close, but “many offices do close on the closest Monday to the actual date in celebration of the holiday,” says the provincial government. A grand thing, that. Unless you’re working retail. Newfoundland and Labrador are ecumenical too, when it comes to “traditional” holidays. As well as St. Patrick’s Day, you can add St. George's Day April 23 and Orangemen's Day July 12 to that list.
In 2007, the NDP provincial government invited Manitoba schoolchildren to name the province’s newest statutory holiday and 114 schools responded with suggestions. A dozen suggested Louis Riel Day or some close variation. Other suggestions included Neil Young Day, Family Get Together Day, February Fun Day, (The) Polar Pause, Duff Roblin Day (Duff’s Day), Our Parents Need a Break Day and Magical Manitoba Monday.
The first Louis Riel Day in Manitoba was celebrated Monday, Feb. 18, 2008. Riel, hero and martyr to the Métis of Manitoba, as the leader hanged for high treason on Nov. 16, 1885 at Regina, was the driving force behind Manitoba becoming Canada’s fifth province and is thought of by many as the “Father of Manitoba.”
Riel was born at Red River Settlement on Oct. 22, 1844 and educated at St Boniface. A Roman Catholic, he studied for the priesthood at the Collège de Montréal. In 1865 he studied law with Rodolphe Laflamme, and he is believed to have worked briefly in Chicago and Saint Paul before returning to St Boniface in 1868.
While space hardly permits for re-telling the entire history of the Red River Rebellion, or Red River Resistance, as it is also known, here or the North-West Rebellion in Saskatchewan 15 years later, the abridged version is that early in 1885, while living in present day Saskatchewan, Riel seized the parish church at Batoche, armed his men, and formed a provisional government and demanded the surrender of Fort Carlton. The North-West Rebellion lasted from March 26 to May 12 before Riel surrendered at the Battle of Batoche and on July 6, 1885, he was charged with high treason.
Riel was convicted, and the federal cabinet, with Sir John A. Macdonald as Conservative prime minister, to appease Ontario Protestants largely, declined to commute the death sentence imposed by Lt.-Col. Hugh Richardson, a stipendiary magistrate of the Saskatchewan District of the North-West Territories. Riel’s body was sent to St Boniface and interred in the cemetery in front of the cathedral.