For this Canadian, Victoria Day honours an often misunderstood queen
'What can humanize a person more than touching a pair of their knickers?' Barbara Rusch asks
For many Canadians, Victoria Day is simply a euphemism for long weekend.
But for Barbara Rusch, the holiday celebrates a complex monarch who cared deeply about her husband and nine children, her duties as queen, and the waning empire over which she reigned for nearly 64 years. At the same time, she could be infamously selfish, dowdy, and deeply disliked wearing the crown, often opting instead for a simple black headdress.
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The Thornhill, Ont., collector started amassing Victorian artifacts nearly 35 years ago, and then began anything and everything related to Queen Victoria.
"The more I started collecting, the more I realized that if I didn't understand the centrepiece of this entire era, Queen Victoria, then I didn't really understand what I was collecting," Rusch told CBC Toronto.
Her obsession began with portraits of the queen, eventually broadening her collection to all kinds of historic jewels.
There's the "very rare" invitation to Victoria's 1840 wedding; a bracelet gifted to the queen by her youngest daughter Beatrice that includes a locket with a portrait of the young girl inside; and a tin box full of chocolate, the queen's profile adorning its cover, that she had sent to every soldier fighting in her name during the Boer War.
But there is one piece in her collection that may trump all the rest: a pair of Queen Victoria's underwear. In 2008, Rusch flew to England to small auction house, where her bid of $9,000 won her the handmade knickers once worn by the queen herself.
Dating to the 1890's, the undergarments bear the monogram VR, for Victoria Regina.
While the garment was valued at $1,000 before bidding, Rusch said that, "to me, they're priceless."
"What can humanize a person more than touching a pair of their knickers, their underwear."
The queen was, Rusch explains, "very much in the habit of giving away her wardrobe." She purchased the knickers from the family of a young woman who served the queen and was eventually awarded with a pair of her underwear.
However, when the queen's husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, Victoria entered into a "decades-long funk" from which she never recovered, Rusch says. Despite her melancholy, she managed to adapt effectively to a world that changed rapidly during her reign, eventually passing in January 1901.
"That speaks volumes about Queen Victoria as a woman and as a mother."