Family Day in Canada, the third Monday in February, is technically not a national, federally-mandated holiday. But most Canadians live in areas that celebrate it as a province-level statutory holiday — in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan as ‘Family Day;’ in Manitoba as ‘Louis Riel Day;’ in Nova Scotia as ‘Nova Scotia Heritage Day,’ and on Prince Edward Island as ‘Islander Day.’ For our purposes, we will refer to the holiday as Family Day from here forward.
History of Family Day
Alberta was the first province to observe Family Day, back in 1990. As the next few years ensued, Saskatchewan and Ontario followed suit. In 2012, British Columbia followed as well, changing the date of its celebration from the second to the third Monday in February a few years later to match the date of neighboring provinces’ observances. New Brunswick announced its holiday in 2018. Manitoba, PEI, and Nova Scotia joined the party in 2007, 2009, 2013, respectively. In Yukon, the already-existing Yukon Heritage Day was considered close enough on the calendar to the new Family Day holiday that no changes were made.
As you may imagine, there are no established traditions surrounding Family Day as there are for Christmas and New Year’s Day, for example. But, as the name implies, many Canadians take advantage of the three-day weekend in February to spend extra time with loved ones. Road trips, winter sports outings, and extended family gatherings are all popular ways to observe the holiday. Celebrants find ways to overcome the cold and have a warm and cozy Family Day!
Family Day timeline
The revolutionary politician and founder of the province of Manitoba, Louis Riel, is born, to be honored generations later by Canadian school children when they choose the name of Manitoba’s Family Day holiday.
Alberta is the first and only Canadian province to observe Family Day on the third Monday in February as a statutory holiday, a distinction it holds until 2007.
Federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton proposes that Family Day become a federal Canadian statutory holiday, arguing that postal workers and other federal employees deserve the day off just as much as the other workers in their provinces.
‘Nova Scotia Heritage Day’ is introduced as that province’s Family Day holiday, with the addendum that the day will honor a different individual each year — to start with Viola Desmond, Canadian civil rights hero.
Family Day FAQs
Do any other countries have Family Days?
Yes. Here is the most recent list — Australia, South Africa, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and the U.S. states Nevada and Arizona.
What are the popular foods to cook on Family Day?
It’s open season on what you want to prepare for your brood and friends, but we do know that on a cold February day in Canada, you can never go wrong with hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies.
I notice that Canada’s Family Day coincides with America’s Presidents Day. Do Americans have the day off too?
Yes, Presidents Day, also known as Washington’s Birthday, is a federal holiday in the U.S., so banks, post offices, and schools are closed.
HOW TO OBSERVE CANADA’S FAMILY DAY
Get back in touch with extended family
Odds are that you have a favorite aunt, uncle, grandparent, or cousin who would be overjoyed to re-establish contact and hear all your most recent stories. Family Day is the perfect time to let loved ones know you think about them often and fondly. You’ll thank yourself.
Host a family get-together
It doesn’t have to be a complicated production. Even a simple family-wide pot luck dinner, at the very least, will remind everyone who the best chefs in the family are. There’s nothing like sharing a homemade meal with the people close to you, to give you a sense of well-being and belonging.
Reach out to your ‘chosen family.’
Let’s face it: more and more people who are members of the newer generations come from broken or dysfunctional homes, where the word ‘family’ only conjures emotional stress. If you fit that description, get in touch with a few members of your ‘chosen family’ — the close friends and allies that are really the ones you can depend on.
FIVE AMAZING FACTS ABOUT LOUIS RIEL
Influential and sequential
Louis Riel’s life — up to his hanging for treason — was chronicled around the turn of the millennium by Canadian comic-book artist Chester Brown, who received the first Canada Council for the Arts grant to a sequential-art project.
“Anything you can do …”
The current official statue of Louis Riel, located on the grounds of Winnipeg’s Manitoba Legislative Building, depicts him in period clothing and moccasins and is actually a replacement for the sculpture from the 1970s that was controversial for its disproportionate body and its nudity.
Rebellion is expensive
Riel was tried in 1885 for his leadership role in the North-West Rebellion, in which he led the French-speaking Metis people against the Canadian government of the time.
“It’s in my blood.”
It’s no wonder that Riel championed the cause of the Metis people; he was one-eighth native Canadian, with a grandmother who was full Franco-Chipewyan Metisse.
Any press is good press?
During his time and well into the 20th century, Riel was often depicted as nothing more than a treacherous rabble-rouser, despite his negotiation for the founding of Manitoba.
WHY WE LOVE CANADA’S FAMILY DAY
It reminds us of what’s really important
Whatever the origins and evolution of Family Day, the meaning of the holiday is right there in its name. What would we do without the people that brought us up, and the brothers and sisters that have been there our whole lives to share in trials and tribulations as well as victories? On Family Day, take a minute to meditate on your blood relations and what they mean to you.
It’s a three-day weekend!
Just so we don’t get too deep or heavy, anyone who’s still in school or has a Monday-through-Friday job can tell you how awesome a three-day weekend can be for breaking the monotony and granting some recharging time. Even if all you do is sleep in on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, we’ll count that as a celebration!
It’s something our parents and/or grandparents didn’t have
It’s kind of cool to have been around on the establishment of a brand-new provincial holiday. Why not dig up a pre-Family Day calendar, and keep it as a collector’s item?
Family Day dates