May 19, 2014
Prominent Waterloo Region historian Rych Mills seems almost taken aback by the blue sky and warm breeze in downtown Kitchener’s Victoria Park this Victoria Day morning.
“We’ve been doing Victoria Day in Victoria Park for about 20 years now, and we’ve had to contend with all sorts of nasty weather in the past – rain, sleet, wind… you name it,” says Mills, host of the annual event, which features a number of presenters speaking on the topic of monarchy and empire, and of the lasting impact of our nation’s imperial ties upon Waterloo Region.
The event, which in years past has featured a litany of speakers including serving MPs, MPPs and mayors, was begun through the Victoria Park Society in the 1990’s, in order to approach the holiday from a more historical viewpoint, and to remember the impact of the many lapsed civic traditions which used to surround holidays such as Empire Day.
This year’s featured speaker was Bonnie Rees, the national membership officer for the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), a Canadian women’s organization dedicated to citizenship and social services projects, specifically in support of the Canadian military and veterans. It was the IODE which, between the years of 1902-1908, raised the money for the commemorative statue of Queen Victoria which now resides in the park, and which serves as a backdrop for the annual event. According to Rees, ongoing projects supported by the IODE include ‘Broken Wing’, a live-in program for veterans who struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in County Middlesex, Ont.
“I’ve been coming out to this event for the past five or six years,” says Waterloo resident Dave Moore, who fondly recalls some of his earliest childhood memories taking place in Victoria Park. Growing up in post-war Kitchener, Moore remembers hearing one of his neighbours telling his mother that the King (George VI) had died in 1952. “I remember feeling as though it was the end of the world,” Moore says, “I knew there was a statue of a Queen in the park (Victoria), but who was this King, and why was he dead? It was a very dramatic time!”
For Rych Mills, there is no better symbol of the British monarchy’s impact upon Canada than Queen Victoria, whose name appears in Waterloo Region on everything from city streets to public schools.
“Victoria was the most famous person of the 19th Century,” continues Mills, who has been a member of the Waterloo Historical Society for going on 15 years, and is the group’s current editor-in-chief. “Five-sevenths of the word ‘history’ is ‘story’, and helping members of our community connect with Canada’s imperial past by looking at events on a smaller more local level really helps to get people interested.”