Welcome to Community Week and the story of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their 1939 tour of Canada. We are grateful to guest authors geogirl and Wendy 1, who have generously shared their time, family memories and photos to provide this series of posts. After reading the preface, delve further into the tale in the next two parts, which will run on Thursday and Friday. You don’t want to miss the personal and treasured family photos!
It is 1931 and Canada was granted control over its own foreign policy and became the political equal of the United Kingdom, sharing a common monarch.
It is 1936 and the king, George V, is dead.
It is 1936 and the king, Edward Vlll, has abdicated.
It is 1937 and the king, George Vl, is crowned.
It is 1939 and the winds of war are circling around the Empire and Europe.
Canadian Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir invited King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth (later to be the Queen Mother) of a royal tour of Canada to foster Canadian unity and demonstrate Canada’s status as an independent kingdom. Canadians could “see their King, the King of Canada, performing royal functions, supported by his Canadian ministers”. And, of course, there was a subtext, to shore up support in North America for Britain should hostilities break out in Europe.
So…the royal visit of King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth began. They left Britain in a naval convoy in the Empress of Australia. Interesting fact: their ship carried 3550 bars of gold worth 30 million pounds! The gold was stored in Canada for safekeeping and later used to pay Britain’s war bills.
They arrived in Canada on May 17th and stayed for a month, crossing Canada twice by train – accumulating over 3200 miles on the beautiful royal blue Royal Train. They saw every Canadian province and most major cities, the Dominion of Newfoundland, and even spent a few days in the United States.
At the time, Canada had a population of about eleven million and from all reports, the majority of those people saw Their Majesties. Tens of thousands turned out everywhere – swamping many small towns of several hundred. And people lined the rail lines to wave and salute. For instance, in Edmonton, Alberta, the regular population of 90,000 swelled to more than 200,000. In Melville, Saskatchewan, over 60,000 people flooded to the town of 3,000. In St. John’s, Newfoundland, the city’s population of 50,000 doubled as visitors came in to see the royal couple.
The visit truly was a spectacular event in Canada – uniting the country in a flurry of royal fervour!
This is the story of what Queen Elizabeth wore, her day dresses and jewelry (mostly tiaras, but you can see some brooches and earrings) and the impact she made on the parents of two Handbaggers from small town New Brunswick, who heard the stories over and over as they were growing up. The tour also saw the birth of the royal walkabout and the first use of the much-loved Maple Leaf Brooch. So, two degrees of separation….Let’s look in!