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Commonwealth Day in Canada

Commonwealth Day is annually held on the second Monday of March. it commemorates the Commonwealth of Nations, which is a union of some countries that used to be part of the British Empire. The date was chosen because it did not have any previous historical connotations.

Is Commonwealth Day a Public Holiday?

Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday. Businesses have normal opening hours.

Commonwealth Day
On Commonwealth Day the Royal Union flag is flown with Canada's national flag on or at government buildings and premises.
On Commonwealth Day the Royal Union flag is flown with Canada's national flag on or at government buildings and premises.
©iStockphoto.com/philpell

What Do People Do?

Commonwealth Day is not a widely marked day in many parts of Canada. Federal government regulations stipulate that the Royal Union Flag, or Union Jack, should be flown alongside the national flag of Canada on or at government buildings and premises, such as federal buildings, military bases and airports. The Royal Union Flag should only be flown from sunrise to sunset and where physical arrangements allow. In practical terms, this means that there should be at least two flag poles. The Royal Union Flag should not replace the Canadian flag if there is only one flag pole. In some years, particular communities mark Commonwealth Day with receptions or exhibitions.

Public Life

Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday in Canada. Stores, post offices, businesses and other organizations are open as usual. Public transport services run to their normal timetables. Schools may be closed, as Commonwealth Day often falls in the mid-winter break, a school holiday in March, which lasts one week.

Background

In the 1800s, Great Britain controlled a large empire that included a large part of what is now Canada. Many influential figures in Canada at that time had British roots and wished to celebrate and emphasize these. From 1898, Empire Day was celebrated in Canadian schools on the last school day before Queen Victoria's Birthday on May 24. The celebrations often lasted a whole day and included speeches by trustees and the singing of inspirational songs. After Queen Victoria's death in 1901, her birthday became an annual commemoration of her life and the pride people felt for being part of the British Empire. To celebrate, people often lit fireworks and bonfires.

As time passed and Canadians developed a separate identity from Great Britain, Empire Day became less important. In 1958, it was renamed Commonwealth Day to reflect the changes in the relationship between Great Britain and her former colonies. In 1973, a Canadian proposal was made to observe Commonwealth Day on the same day in all Commonwealth countries, the second Monday in March. This date was chosen because it did not have any significant historical connotations.  In 1976, this proposal was accepted. However, the last Monday before or on May 24 remained a statutory holiday, known as Victoria Day, in many Canadian provinces and territories.

Commonwealth Day is also officially observed in a large number of countries that were formally part of the British Empire. These include many of the countries in the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. However, there are few notable celebrations to mark the day.

Commonwealth Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010MonMar 8Commonwealth DayObservance 
2011MonMar 14Commonwealth DayObservance 
2012MonMar 12Commonwealth DayObservance 
2013MonMar 11Commonwealth DayObservance 
2014MonMar 10Commonwealth DayObservance 
2015MonMar 9Commonwealth DayObservance 
2016MonMar 14Commonwealth DayObservance 
2017MonMar 13Commonwealth DayObservance 
2018MonMar 12Commonwealth DayObservance 
2019MonMar 11Commonwealth DayObservance 
2020MonMar 9Commonwealth DayObservance 

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