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Vice Blog

The True Meaning of Canadian Family Day Is Cocaine

In 1988, Dale Getty tried selling an ounce of coke to an undercover cop in an Edmonton motel room, and Family Day was born. Seriously.

Cocaine. Photo via Flickr user Valerie Everett.

This post originally appeared on VICE Canada

Family Day, celebrated yesterday, is a cherished statutory holiday in Canada invented to break up the New Year's-to-Good Friday grind. It's a welcome respite from the seasonal affective disorder you inevitably pick up by living through a Canadian winter. It's not celebrated in Quebec, New Brunswick, or Newfoundland and Labrador (because they hate families) and in Manitoba it's called Louis Riel Day (because they hate Canada). PEI and Nova Scotia also call it something different, but who cares.


But while most provinces have only been taking off the third Monday in February since 2007, Alberta has been marking Family Day since 1990. As it turns out, Edmonton is ground zero for Canadian Family Values.

And we owe it all to the premier's son getting busted in a drug sting.

Pity poor Don Getty, Alberta's forgotten premier. When the ex-CFL superstar took over from Peter Lougheed as leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives in 1985, the province was in hard shape (oil hit nine bucks a barrel in 1986). Worse, everything the government touched turned to shit. Half the businesses they subsidized through the recession went under anyway, leaving the province to eat the damage.

If things were rough politically, they weren't any smoother at home. On August 18, 1988, his 31-year-old son Dale was arrested in an Edmonton motel room on trafficking and drug possession charges after trying to sell an ounce of cocaine to an undercover Mountie. Getty Sr. was in Saskatoon for a premiers' conference at the time, resulting in an awkward scrum about Senate reform that was also about his son's failed attempt at dealing coke to cops.

Six months later, the 1989 Throne Speech announced that the government would bring in a new February holiday so families could spend more time together, and Family Day was born. At the time, it was the word around the province that the holiday was born out of the premier's own guilt about neglecting his family.


For his part, Getty has emphatically maintained over the years that the new holiday "had absolutely nothing to do with the problems Dale had and that he has handled and conquered, and I'm so proud of him."

Don Getty never did catch a break. The economy didn't really improve, and when he called an early election in 1989, one of the only seats the Tories lost was his. He eventually won a seat in a by-election, but the knives in the Tory backrooms came out shortly thereafter. He retired from politics at the end of 1992.

Since Don Getty is otherwise remembered for being forgettable (and for leaving the province with so much debt that Ralph Klein could come in and burn Alberta to the ground), Family Day is probably his greatest legacy.

"I'm extremely proud of how Albertans have responded to it," Getty told the Calgary Herald in 2009. "They're coming to the conclusion it's the most enjoyed and focused holiday other than Christmas that they have."

That might be a bit of an exaggeration. Many people can't (or won't) take the day off, especially if they're in the service or retail industry. And those who do are as likely to spend it running weekday errands or working from home as they are to cuddle around a fireplace and read from the family Bible.

(As a childless couple in our mid-to-late 20s, my fiancée and I typically spend it either doing a bunch of chores or getting day-drunk and watching Netflix.)

Life is pretty frenetic these days. Most people are now chained to their jobs 24/7 thanks to the joys of omnipresent high-speed internet, and a lot of kids are more overscheduled than their parents. All things considered, setting aside a dedicated day to being with your loved ones during the most depressing stretch of the year was a pretty boss move.

So next year, whether you're building treasured memories with your loved ones or getting paid time-and-a-half at work, take a minute to toast Don Getty, the Father of fuckin' Family Day. Thanks to his eldest son's extraordinarily bad attempt at becoming a drug dealer in the late 1980s, most of us get a three-day weekend.

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