In an effort to enforce physical distancing and protect community members from the pandemic coronavirus, Six Nations has cancelled all 2020 Community Awareness Month activities and the 2020 Victoria Day Bread and Cheese celebrations.
Community Awareness Month takes place every May on Six Nations and is an opportunity for the business community and SNGR Council departments to hold open house events, free workshops and give back to the community.
The Victoria Day Bread and Cheese Parade event has become an annual homecoming tradition for members of the Six Nations community since it was initiated in the 1860s.
The dispersion of gifts to Her Majesty’s subjects on her birthday began as gifts of blankets and fabric to indigenous men and women in the colonies— an expensive philanthropic tradition Queen Victoria and Prince Albert established early in their reign.
British politicians criticized the expense and instead, suggested a gift of bread and cheese which was already a charity being given by the royal couple to England’s poor.
Upon the death of Albert in 1862, gifts on the Queen’s birthday ceased to indigenous people in Australia and Canada. To carry on the tradition, the Six Nations Chiefs agreed to gift the people at their own expense – carrying on the tradition of handing out bread and cheese to celebrate the reign of Queen Victoria and the relationship between the Six Nations and the British Crown.
In 1879 some of the earliest notations of the Six Nations Council minutes in the archives – a total cost of $134.78 was approved from the Indian Trust Fund to cover the cost of 500 loaves of bread, cheese, lemon and soda biscuits, percussion caps with explosive powder and cash prizes for foot races.
In a quirky note of self-boasting to his superiors, then Indian Superintendent at Grand River Jasper Gilkison wrote of the 1879 celebrations “I have the pleasure to report that the turn out of Indians, was numerous, all appeared to enjoy themselves, and the proceedings terminated pleasantly. I had authorized the exclusion of all refreshment booths or wagons, hitherto, a nuisance, and affording the opportunity to secrete intoxicants thus we had no disturbance.”
After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 the celebrations took a break but were re-launched in 1903 after the Six Nations Council decided to celebrate King Edward’s birthday on Victoria Day as he reigned.
Victoria Day celebrations were cancelled again in 1915 out of respect for what would later be known as World War I. Celebrations were picked up again in 1916 and 1917. However there is no record of Victoria Day in 1918 — the same year local officials ordered public events shutdown as the Spanish Flu pandemic ravaged the area in three waves ranging from 1918-1919. That pandemic saw over 400 deaths in the Brantford and Six Nations area.
The Victoria Day Bread and Cheese tradition is not documented in the archives again until 1933 when the elected council re-started the tradition.