A May Day to remember

Readers, we in the creative team behind T2F acknowledge that a huge omission has been committed, for which we are eternally apologetic. What would a New West Blog be in May without a post about our fair May Queene? In the flurry of child-rearing, cold-minding, and baby-growing (and all the stuff the rest of us do), we forgot to make sure that New Westminster‘s biggest event got the coverage it deserved on T2F: May Day.

As the longest-running May Day celebration in the British Commonwealth (which is saying something, because the British invented this rather odd tradition involving young girls in white dresses, children hopping around poles with ribbons, and choreographed dances with old men), most New Westies are very proud of their annual May Day festivities. It is often one of the only times of year the city gets wide media coverage for something positive (instead of skytrain crime and traffic).

You have to be from here to understand, but it truly is one of the only events in the city’s calendar that gathers the whole city to watch. The celebration of Hyack week goes on for seven days, but the biggest moment is the crowning of the Queen of the May, always on the Wednesday after Victoria day.

When I was in school, May Day was one of the biggest events of the year. The runners raced, the popular girls campaigned for the school’s May Queen nomination, and all held their breath to hear of their school won the coveted May Queen spot, or was relegated to the decidedly second place “Honor Queen.”

Though there was much bellyaching in grades three and four about our roles in the May Day festivities – folk dancers and maypole dancers, respectively – I was one of the nerdy ones who wanted to dance the maypole from the day I saw my big brother Will’s class do it. I had two years to pine and wait for the chance to hold a brightly-coloured ribbon in my hand and hop gaily around the tall white poles (along with every other grade four student in New West) as the citizens of New West looked on, and from that point the highlight of May Day for me were the maypole dances.

Maypole Dancers

My grade four year turned out to thwart my maypole aspirations. I spent two months of the winter recuperating from spine surgery, and though I returned to school just as maypole dance practices began during each gym period, I was out again for hip surgery just six weeks later. Spring bloomed in New West under my careful watch from our beautiful house across from Queen’s Park, as I was ensconced in the sunroom and encased in a pink fibreglass bodycast. It was an itchy and boring way to live out those two months, but when May came around I knew I would miss my chance to dance the maypole. It sounds geeky now, but I really, really wanted to do it – and missing out was symbolic of all I was missing stuck inside the house.

I had a visiting schoolteacher had come several times a week throughout my incarceration that year. She was a great lady named Mrs. Sontowski. Hyack week rolled around and somehow Mrs. Sontowski found out about my disappointed maypole aspirations. When May Day dawned with the sound of the anvil just across the street, and I could hear my classmates walking to the Stadium for the big event, Mrs. Sontowski came that day bearing a big old hatbox and a small package.

From my perch in the sunroom, it was a beautiful day, and that hatbox made it even better. That day she opened the hatbox and pulled out her beautiful flowered May Queen crown, and the corsage and pin that every May Queen is given. Mrs. Sontowski, formerly Sandra Jackson, New Westminster’s May Queen 1954, stood in my sunroom and told me about the day she was crowned, how she wore a beautiful dress, danced with a smelly city Alderman, and gave a speech to the whole town. I tried on her crown and put on her pin and corsage and wore them for the rest of my lesson that day. It was better than the maypole – that day I got to be May Queen.

I found this on Quest for the Queens – a website collection of videos, info and photos of New Westminster’s May Queens over the years. See Also:
New West Heritage Page: May Queens
New West Heritage Photo Tour: May Queens
New Westminster’s 140th May Queen Suite

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8 Replies to “A May Day to remember”

  1. I'm impressed you found Sandra Jackson's May Queen moment on video! What a nice tale.

  2. I love this little story Jocelyn. How nice of Mrs. Sontowski. That's a true caring moment. Although, I still totally don't get the May Queen thing. 🙂

  3. Neither do I, to be honest. As you can tell, I always thought the whole “12 year old girls in white dancing with old aldermen” thing was a bit odd. I do believe it is based on a fertility rite of some sort (what spring ritual isn’t?).

    But maypole dancing – that’s another thing entirely. Who WOULDN’T want to dance around a pole with coloured ribbon to really terrible music?

  4. I always thought the real Queen was watching the whole thing like “the stern Governess of the huge pink maps”.

  5. It’s touching to know that you remember that incident. You were a delightful student and I looked forward to our sessions.

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