On a warm, spring day in late March, streets in Nanaimo would be filled with footraces, sporting events and the singing of God Save the Queen.
This day was in the mid-19th century and it was the start of an annual tradition of Empire Days, which would stretch for almost 150 years.
The tradition continues this year with festivities planned for the May 20 weekend.
“This year we promise to have good weather,” said Ron Hopper, president of the Nanaimo Empire Days Celebration Society.
Empire Days began as a patriotic holiday, where families gathered to celebrate their homeland, as many of the settlers and workers in Nanaimo were from the United Kingdom.
Activities were family friendly and featured sporting events and banquets, much of which continues today.
Earlier in the month were May days, which included activities like choosing the May Queen and dancing the Maypole.
Although May Days didn’t endure, some of the activities did, with the May Queen and Maypole dance incorporated into Empire Days celebrations.
The May Queen and her party for 2011 were selected from Park Avenue Community School. She will be officially crowned on the Friday night of festivities.
Friday will also see the arrival of HMCS Nanaimo, welcomed by the Pacific Gael pipe band. The ship will be open all weekend for the public to view.
The main event, however, still takes place Sunday with the annual parade through downtown and evening fireworks.
The parade features local service clubs, sports teams and businesses, plus visiting bands and organizations.
“This year as a special treat we have the Seattle Police motorcycle drill team,” Hopper said.
The parade will also feature some equestrian entries. In years past, the horses were placed at the end of the parade.
The weekend wraps up with fireworks over the Nanaimo harbour. Hopper said the Empire Days committee met with their fireworks provider, who is excited to try out new displays this year.
For more information, please visit www.nanaimoempiredays.com.