A Rose for St George’s Day

In April of 1889, the Montreal Daily Star featured a number of advertisements and articles discussing the celebration of St George’s Day in the city, or more particularly, the lack thereof.  In what can only be described as a campaign for St George’s Day, the newspaper offered its readers the opportunity to commemorate their English identity, and to drum up readership.

St George’s Day had been celebrated in Montreal since 1808, and regularly since 1835, with the creation of the St George’s Society.  The society, however, seems to have been less able or willing to create lavish celebrations in the 1880s, generally only holding its annual church service at a local Anglican church. To fill in the void, the paper decided to provide roses for those who wanted them on St George’s Day:

‘Next Tuesday will be St George’s Day.  In view of the very quiet and undemonstrative way in which Englishmen celebrate the day it might be expected that every Englishman and every English woman, every English boy, and every English girl would wear England’s emblem. Unfortunately they cannot always get roses for the occasion. The supply is often limited, and many have to go without. Just to show how many Englishmen and their descendants there are who are proud of the right little, tight little island, the Star has secured thousands of beautiful roses to give away for button hole bouquets on St George’s Day to everybody who wants one.’ [Montreal Daily Star, 20 April 1889, p. 8]

All the English in Montreal were thus urged to proclaim their heritage by wearing a rose on the day, especially as ‘there will be no special celebration . . . St George’s Day.’ [Montreal Daily Star, 22 April 1889, p. 3]  But why choose a rose campaign to press for the expression of English identity, and not organise an event along the lines of those celebrated in years past: a parade, a concert, a banquet, a ball? Such things could likely have cost about the same as providing free out-of-season roses for all who ask. The Star was unclear about why it chose to use the rose. But they were explicit about what it meant to be English, and the importance that they attached to the symbol of the rose.

‘The Scot is proud of his native heather, and a sprig of Shamrock or a leaf of Irish ivy moves the hearts of the Green Isle, but both alike may think of the share they have had in helping on the march of events which we specially celebrate on St George’s Day. But, after all, we cannot forget that had it not been for the men of the Rose, the descendants of the bold followers of the conquerors of Britain and the makers of England, the Empire of which we are citizens would never have risen from its cradle and grown to the dimensions of to-day.’ [Montreal Daily Star, 23 April 1889, p. 2]

The wearing of the rose was framed as being a part of a national duty: ‘England expects every man, woman and child of English descent to wear a rose.’ [Montreal Daily Star, 22 April 1889, p. 3]. To wear the rose, the person acknowledged their pride in their heritage, their pride in being a part of Canada, and ultimately a part of the British Empire.  ‘England expects to-day every one of her sons to do his duty and that being done, religiously and politically, though the England of to-day is not bounded by the same limits as she was when her great national poet penned his burning words, they will apply to that extended England of to-day with as much force as to the more limited power of three centuries ago.’ [Montreal Daily Star, 23 April 1889, p. 2]

The paper did not report on the success (or failure) of the rose-wearing campaign in its following issues, so it is unclear as to whether or not Montreal’s English took up the offer of free roses.  But it is most likely that the city’s English population did wear roses in honour of their English heritage, on St George’s day.  A few years later Allan’s, a retailer in the city, offered for sale roses to be worn on the occasion.

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