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May 12 or July 15?
May 15, 2009

On July 15, 1970, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, rode a carriage from the CNR station down Broadway. Seated in a following carriage were Princess Anne and Prince Charles. Their destination was the Manitoba Legislature, where the Queen was scheduled to make a speech to commemorate the date on which Manitoba entered the Canadian Confederation.

Along the route some 100,000 people had gathered to cheer the Royal family, who received a 21-gun salute when they arrived at the legislative grounds where the Queen and her family were greeted by another 15,000 people.

After her speech was completed, the Royal Family made their way by motorcade to Main Street, where they alit from their cars and walked a block along the street on their way to the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature (now simply the Manitoba Museum), where the Queen was scheduled to preside at its official opening.

The Royal Family walked down the east side of Main Street, frequently stopping to talk to “people who were lined up behind rope fences,” according to the Free Press report.

“The crowd cheered and clapped in segments as the Royal Family stopped at various points.

“Children pushed, or were pushed, to the front of the crowd and many slipped under the rope to sit on the curb and wave their Canadian flags as the Royal Family passed ...

“Two young boys, Frank Doherty and Ronald Pouschyk, said that Prince Philip asked them their names, where they went to school and what they did during the holidays.”

For the thousands lining the street, it was a memorial day to mark Manitoba’s 100th anniversary.

What would appear strange today is that Manitoba’s centennial was commemorated on July 15, instead of May 12.

Actually, for over 100 years, the official birthday of Manitoba was always celebrated on July 15.

The 50th anniversary of the province was commemorated on July 15, 1920, with the grand opening of the new legislative building. The scandal-plagued building took seven years to complete, but emerged as a visual symbol of the province’s progress.

“It is fitting that the fiftieth birthday of the province should be symbolized by the dedication of this ... splendid edifice,” said Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Sir James Aitkin, who was charged with officially opening the building.

“This splendid edifice is one of the most marked milestones in the history of the province ...,” said Manitoba Premier Tobias Norris. “It is for the people of Manitoba to make this noble structure a temple dedicated to the welding together of all Manitobans into unity of citizens of Manitoba and Canada, irrespective of classes or occupation in the spirit of sincere co-operation for the common good in the advancement of the welfare of all.”

Since the date was such a milestone, the Free Press ran a special supplement on July 15, 1920, “commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Manitoba’s establishment as a province.”

The supplement contained 21 “signed” articles with illustrations by B.T. Batsford for those who didn’t know “the romantic origin of the province.”

The articles were written by such notable Manitoba journalists as J.W. Dafoe, H.B. Guest, F.M. Marter, Thomas B. Roberton, W.E. Ingersoll, H.F. Ross and E. Cora Hind. Fittingly, Hind, then regarded as Canada’s best agricultural reporter who was able to accurately predict the annual grain harvest yields for the entire prairie region, wrote an article entitled, From Pemmican to Baby Beef in Fifty Years, outlining the history of farming in Manitoba.

“Today, we extend to Manitoba our heartfelt felicitations upon the Province’s attainment of its fiftieth Birthday — its Golden Jubilee,” began the article called Perseverance and Evolution. “Throughout fifty years, a comparative short period, Perseverance and Evolution have accomplished wonderful things ... Events have led up in rapid succession from the thrilling times of the Red River Settlement (the days of the strong-fisted, of the pony express, the flint-lock, and the ox-cart) to the monumental year, 1920 ...

“The prosperity now enjoyed is but an earnst of the remarkable inheritance which is Manitoba’s birthright and toward which she is pressing with a zeal that is the admiration of the Empire of which she forms an important part.”

Today, do we not know “the romantic origin of the province,” when we celebrate Manitoba Day on May 12?  Have we abandoned our own history that for over 100 years acknowledged July 15 as the appropriate date to celebrate Manitoba’s entry into Confederation?

Well, the answer is obscured in shades of gray. Both July 15 and May 12 are significant dates in Manitoba’s history.

It’s true that July 15 is the date when Manitoba officially became a province, according to the terms of the Manitoba Act, but May 12 is when the Manitoba Act was given Royal assent — it was signed by Canadian Governor General Sir John Young, Lord Lisgar, on behalf of Queen Victoria — after being passed by the House of Commons by 120 to 11 votes.

When the Royal Family visited Manitoba to commemorate the province’s official 100th birthday, Premier Edward Schreyer’s NDP government was in office for a year. Although Manitoba’s centennial was recognized in 1970 as officially being on July 15, it was the Schreyer government which began the trend of Manitoba Day being on May 12.

A May 11, 1976, report in the Free Press, which is the first reference I’ve found to May 12 as Manitoba’s “birthday,” said: ‘The date has been chosen because it enables children, while still in school, to be involved in the celebration.”

As July 15 is the official date of Manitoba’s anniversary, each year the provincial government must issue a proclamation declaring  May 12 as Manitoba Day.

Although it’s technically inaccurate to declare May 12 as our province’s birthday, it’s not an overly great sin, since it gives a captive audience — school children — the opportunity to celebrate Manitoba’s “romantic origin.”