The Achives of Ontario Celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II: Empire Day

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For more than 60 years the Department of Education (now the Ministry of Education) promoted homage to the Monarchy and patriotism within the Commonwealth by setting aside one school day a year to observe Commonwealth traditions and ideals.

The day was called "Empire Day" and it was observed in May preceding Queen Victoria's birthday. The Department issued teaching aids and advice in colourfully published in "Empire Day pamphlets", many of which are in the Archives' collection.

Each issue includes a message from the Minister of Education as well as specific instructions for teachers of children from kindergarten to Grade 8.


The 1952 issue expounds on the ideals of citizenship, devotion to duty and service to others, and includes a recommended list of English literature from across commonwealth countries.

The illustration of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the front cover of the 1952 issue appears to be drawn by a child but there is no reference to the artist inside.

Cover of an Empire Day pamphlet, 1952

Cover of the 1952 Empire Day Pamphlet
Gov't Doc Ed/ Em 1952
Pamphlet 1952/no.26


Empire Day was also used to teach children the basic political history of their province. The reproduction of the first Parliament of Upper Canada in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1792 is in the same issue. The Minister of Education quotes the beginning of Lieutenant Governor Simcoe's address:

"I have summoned you together, under the authority of an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, passed last year, which has established the British Constitution, and all the forms which secure and maintain it, in this distant country."

Painting: The First Legislature of Upper Canada, 1955
The First Legislature of Upper Canada, 1955
[Click here or on the image above to identify Ontario's first lieutenant-governor,
first parliamentarians, and first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.]
F.S. Challener (1869-1959)
oil on canvas, 188.0 cm x 274.3 cm
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 619857


Every issue praised Ontario's links to the British Empire and made such sentiments a priority for teaching in the classroom.

Cover of the 1954 Empire Day Pamplet
Cover of the 1954 Empire Day Pamphlet
Pamphlet 1954/no.26
Gov't Doc Ed/ Em 1954

Cover of the 1956 Empire Day Pamplet
Cover of the 1956 Empire Day Pamphlet
Pamphlet 1956/no.26
Gov't Doc Ed/ Em 1956

By 1973 Empire Day had fallen by the wayside but the then Minister of Education, Thomas L. Wells, wrote a letter to elementary school teachers urging them to use the Royal visit to teach children about the Monarchy. Part of the letter reads:

"The Crown has held a place of special significance throughout Ontario's history. The visit of our Queen serves as a reminder of this fact, and I believe it can be a more memorable occasion for our young citizens if it is supported by a meaningful learning experience."

To the letter he attached an itinerary of the upcoming visit and a colourful map/poster of their intended destinations.

Click to see a larger image (107K)
Letter from Minister of Education, Thomas Wells, 1973
Reference Code: RG 58-12
Archives of Ontario

Letter from Minister of Education, Thomas Wells, 1973

Ministry of Education Board Game
Ministry of Education game board for kids

The letter, itinerary and poster are found in series RG 58-12, Intergovernmental Affairs, Royal Visits.


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A Brief Biographical Sketch | Pomp and Ceremony, Decorations and Decorum
Celebrating Celebrity: Unofficial Royal Watchers | Empire Day | Royal Symbols
The Monarchy in Ontario | Behind the Scenes | Royalty in the Archives | Just For Kids