May Day Celebrations

Children dressed for a May Day celebration at Whonnock Hall in 1917. [P00297]

May Day celebrations were a much anticipated event in Maple Ridge, observed in conjunction with the birthday of Queen Victoria who was born in 1819. May Day was declared a public holiday in 1845 – well before BC became a colony, in 1858 – and in 1897 the day was observed as Empire Day.

Before May Day celebrations took hold in the community, schools around Canada would hold special activities to honor Great Britain and British heroes. The earliest reference to May Day found at the Maple Ridge Museum is from 1897, in the form of a Maypole dance held at the Maple Ridge School at the south foot of Laity Street.

Costumed children gathered around the May Pole at Maple Ridge School in 1897 for the May Day celebration. Some children are holding ribbons from the pole in preparation for the dance. [P01663]

Community-wide festivities, beginning in 1919, were held every year on May 24th. Planning for May Day brought together children, adults and various local groups and organizations. From 1920 onwards, May Day festivities were held at the Aggie Hall grounds. Children’s sports and maypole dancing happened during the day, while at night there was a dance for the adults.

Elevated view over the Aggie Hall grounds in 1921, with two maypole dances observed by a large crowd of adults, standing, and the May Queen and her coterie seated on a raised dais, centre right. Golden Ears are visible in the background. [P03769]

After 1923, Haney Central School would have students make baskets for their teachers, lined with candy, filled with wild flowers and decorated with crepe paper. These would be left on the doorsteps of their teachers. Much of the day would be spent playing games.

“Royal Sisters and Loyal Subjects,” began the speech of the 1933 May Day Queen, “On this happy occasion of our accession to the throne of Maple-Ridge we thank you for your gracious words and royal welcome… to all our subjects, may this year witness the banishment of the clouds of depression and the return of such prosperity as will bring comfort and happiness to the homes of all.” In those days, the local Gazette newspaper repeated the Queen’s speech verbatim.

May Day Festival in 1936. Group of children in costume carrying flower baskets with the Golden Ears in the background. [P01329]

By 1936, the event was mostly child-centered and the day began with a parade of decorated cars and floats from the Aggie grounds in Haney to Hammond and back. This was then followed by the crowning of the May Queen. The parade would be followed by various sports events. Every child would be given a free hot dog, lemonade and some tasty cake. Admission to the grounds was free for children and only 25 cents for adults.

The May Day events in New Westminster were the biggest around. The girl that won the prestigious title of May Queen in Maple Ridge, along with her attendants, would be sent to the events in New Westminster in order to represent the district.

May Queen and attendants posed in arbor at Nightingale home in 1947. [P03138]

With the advent of World War Two, May Day celebrations were cancelled in the community. However, two local girls, Billie Jo Imlach (nee Pallot) and Isabel Walton (nee Jones) continued to celebrate the fun-filled holiday, crowning their own May Queen and recruiting youth from around the district to participate in skits and musical numbers at the Nightingale home.

1947 May Day Parade around the Nightingale house led by children in ruffle-trimmed dresses [made of crepe paper], followed by an older girl with Britannia shield and trident, followed by Queen, attendants and flower girl. [P03139]

They even made their own costumes, with baby blankets serving as capes. The girls discontinued their May Day celebration in 1947, effectively ending the community celebration of the holiday in Maple Ridge.  May Day celebrations continued to be held sporadically in Pitt Meadows through the 1960s.