Blank Day

A couple of weeks ago Monday (the third Monday in February to be exact) as I toiled away at my desk here in Nova Scotia it occurred to me that my electronic distractions were uncharacteristically quiet that day. My twitter feed was silent, and my inbox was actually manageable. I did not spare this much thought until later in the day when it dawned on me that in most of the of country it was a statutory holiday, be it Family Day or Islander Day or Louis Riel Day. My bitterness at being one of the few jurisdictions that required folks to trudge through a February Monday was short lived owing to the knowledge that next year, 2015, Nova Scotia will have its very own February holiday as per the aptly named, February Holiday Act.

In an indubitably Nova Scotian way; however, the pending February holiday is not without controversy and conjecture. In the lead up to the passing of the act and official government announcement popular opinion seemed to tilt towards naming the day in honour of Viola Desmond. It is not an understatement to say that Viola Desmond is Nova Scotia’s Rosa Parks, in short Ms Desmond struck a blow for desegregation in Nova Scotia based upon her choice of a seat in a movie theatre in New Glasgow in 1946. (Select the link to her name for a more thorough description of her life and times.)

In February of 2015 the third Monday in February in Nova Scotia will indeed be Viola Desmond day; however, what the day will be called in 2016 or 2017, or 2018…. is, as yet unknown. In that indubitably Nova Scotian way we are going to rename the holiday each year, after Nova Scotian students make submissions to a panel who will make a selection…. by all means let’s not do this the easy way, let’s create something we can argue over publicly every year rather than name a day in February, Black History Month no less, in honour of an individual whose achievements deserve to be honoured in the province and celebrated outside Nova Scotia’s borders.

As you might have gathered, I am personally not a fan of this decision, as I believe the naming of this day was a ceremonial lay up that was easy to follow through on. I also find it a bit distasteful that Nova Scotia is quick to celebrate its status as a popular destination on the underground railroad but too often struggles to come to terms with the uncomfortable racial history that exists here, to which I would point to the naming of Viola Desmond Day 2015, but not 2016, nor 2017 nor 2018, nor….. as tangible proof.

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Comments

  1. I suppose it’s possible to attribute the desire for a different name for the holiday each year – to be voted on by schoolchildren is a brilliant feature! – not to discomfort with a history of racism but to recognition that there can’t be very many more public holidays created, and politicians have a LOT of groups they’d like to stroke. With this statute, every government gets four chances per mandate to give glowing and harmless speeches to people they hope will vote for them in gratitude.

    That said, I think they might well have decided that Ms Desmond was an appropriate choice for a permanent designation.

    Ontario unimaginatively called its February holiday Family Day, copying Alberta. In refusing to accompany her mother and me to the cottage for the long weekend, my then 15-year-old daughter claimed that the government announcement had left out the first two words, ‘Avoid Your …’. And so it has continued since 2008!

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