The Origins of May Day
The roots of modern May Day celebrations can be traced all the way back to the Roman Floralia, a festival held in springtime in honour of the Goddess Flora. It is said to be linked to Beltane, the Gaelic spring festival celebrated on the first day of May and was also celebrated as a holiday in many pagan traditions. Many of the tenets of Canada’s modern May Day, like dancing around the Maypole, or crowning the May Queen, can be traced to traditional English May Day celebrations that marked the end of the planting season.
May Day celebrations in the Lower Mainland began in New Westminster in 1870 and then in Port Coquitlam in 1923. The tradition continues in both New West and PoCo to this day. It might surprise you to learn that Coquitlam once had its very own May Day, celebrated officially from 1940 to 1962, and once more in 1971 for British Columbia’s centennial.
E.M. (Manny) Gueho is remembered as the instigator of May Day in Coquitlam. He saw the festivities happening in New Westminster and Port Coquitlam and felt that Coquitlam should have its very own May Day celebrations. A committee was formed in early 1940 to plan what was to become an annual affair.
On April 8, 1940, Mrs. Crawley (Secretary for the May Day Committee) approached Council to suggest that May 31 be declared a public holiday. The Committee was asked to check with the local merchants to see if they would find the proposal acceptable.
The first May Day celebrations took place at Blue Mountain Park on May 31, 1940 but it wasn’t until 1948 that the day was declared an official half-day holiday.