Empire Days continues tradition in Nanaimo

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her diamond jubilee this year, Nanaimo’s annual Empire Days celebration recalls another 60-year reigning monarch.

The annual celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday began almost 150 years ago as a way for expatriates from the British Isles to recall some of their memories of the old country.

Foot races and competitions of all kinds took over the streets of downtown Nanaimo, as families gathered for picnics and festivities.

After nearly a century and a half, that family atmosphere continues.

Events begin Friday (May 18) with the May Queen crowning and reception at Quarterway Elementary School. A band entertains at 6:30 p.m., with the crowning ceremony at 7 p.m.

Earlier in the day, HMCS Nanaimo docks at the Visiting Vessel Pier in the boat basin. It will be joined by sister ships HMCS Edmonton and HMCS Saskatoon. HMCS Nanaimo will be open for public tours on Saturday (May 19), 1-3 p.m. A noon cannon firing near the Bastion will see the May Queen party doing the honours.

On Sunday, tradition continues with the Empire Days Parade through downtown Nanaimo, beginning at 1 p.m.

Crowds lining the streets might be larger this year as the Shriners organization holds its annual gathering in Nanaimo on the long weekend. Members are encouraged to take in the parade, which usually boasts an entry by the Shriners every year.

The Parade Marshall is the Shrine Club Grand Potentate.

Roughly 550 Shriners are in town this week as the Pacific Northwest Shrine Association hosts a convention and celebrates its 100th anniversary.

“The parade should be a dandy this year because of the Shriners,” said Roy Linder, Empire Days Society spokesman.

What people will miss are the annual fireworks, which won’t be fired this year. The society failed to file in time for a city grant, which, if awarded, would have provided operating money for the society. Since money was tight, the fireworks display was sacrificed.

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