Who knew that an early morning stroll taken while on vacation would lead to an encounter of a lifetime that afternoon.
The date was Aug. 15, 1994, and my husband, David, and I were spending our last morning in Victoria, British Columbia, prior to boarding the Black Ball Transport Ferry in Canada to return to the United States. There was a small group of people gathered near the Inner Harbour and from afar, it appeared that a television commercial was being created or a scene from a movie being filmed.
A yellow seaplane had landed on the water and when the doors opened, a splendidly dressed older woman with military escorts emerged to walk across the dock. Upon a closer look, it appeared to be someone dressed as royalty and the entrance/exit of the plane was played out repeatedly, while being filmed.
During a break, the film crew informed us of the exciting news that they were rehearsing the moment that Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, would arrive/depart later that day while visiting the Parliament Building which was located nearby. Her visit to Canada was timed just prior to the opening of the Commonwealth Games on Aug. 18.
It was a beautiful summer day and at the last minute, our travel schedule was changed because who would pass up the opportunity to possibly glimpse the Queen of England, perhaps one of the most well-known people in the world? At the time, the Queen was serving as the monarch and she, along with other members of the royal family, would undertake public and private functions as representatives of Canada. (That role has now officially passed to the King of Canada, Charles III as of Sept. 8, 2022, due to the Queen’s recent passing).
The green lawns of the Parliament were freshly mowed and hours of preparations were about to begin to make the space suitable for the Queen’s arrival. Over the next five hours, the crowds would swell into the thousands while the staff and crew busily worked to set up the platform/podium for guest speakers, arrange metal barricades around the perimeter, sweep the area for bombs and the countless tasks required to protect the royal family during her visit in front of such a large crowd.
A member of the Protective Policing Service, operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, (similar to the U.S. Secret Service) walked the barricade section near where we were patiently waiting throughout the day for the big event. In an astounding coincidence, an older woman who eventually joined our group was from Manchester, England, and turned out to be someone that David had known while living in England as a teenager.
Finally, the big moment arrived and as a final touch, small paper versions of the Royal Standard Flag were distributed as a large band began to play. Members of the military marched on to the field as dignitaries streamed onto the stage. Opening remarks were made, an official welcome was extended, and as per tradition, the Queen slowly walked up and down among the rows of the military.
Dressed impeccably in a polka-dotted teal blue suit with a matching hat, she was officially ‘reviewing’ the troops just prior to moving around the perimeter of the field, greeting members of the crowd. You could feel the excitement in the air — people were on their feet, cheering, flags were waving en masse — it was electric.
Our long wait paid off as we were at the front of the crowd and to our astonishment, the Queen stopped to speak to the women standing immediately to our right who had also seen Elizabeth’s “Queen Mother” years earlier in England. After a brief conversation, one of the women presented Queen Elizabeth a lovely broach while a man on our left gave her a large bouquet of flowers.
She was flanked by members of the Protective Police, but was standing so close to us that David or I could literally reach out and touch her. Her arms quickly filled with flowers that were eventually passed off to members of her staff (later donated to charities), so that she could continue receiving gifts as she made her way through the crowd.
Another group of officials accompanied her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who smiled and waved as he, too, made his way across the field. Eventually, they would cross the street to the harbour, waving goodbye to everyone and traveling on to their next official stop. What a thrilling way to cap off a trip to the beautiful island of Victoria — it was a wonderful experience that has never been forgotten.
This was actually the second time that David had seen the Queen. As a teenager, he was an English Boy Scout attending the 9th World Scout Jamboree, a 12-day event held in August 1957 at Sutton Park in Warwickshire, England. It was a celebration of both the 50th anniversary of the founding of the scouting movement and the 100th anniversary of the founder’s birth, Robert Baden-Powell. The Jamboree was declared open by Prince Philip and the Queen also accompanied him in touring the camp which hosted 50,000 scouts from 85 countries, including a contingency from the United States. David would also be one of many who would later assist the American scouts in relocating as their campsite flooded during two days of heavy rain.
These special memories are now recalled with an affectionate nostalgia as we, along with the rest of the world, mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth who passed away earlier this month, passing on the crown to her son, Charles. David recalls watching the Queen’s coronation on British television in 1953 and to this day, can still recall word for word the royal anthem which he sang countless times as a child, “God Save the Queen.”
The writer is one of the key members who helped reorganize the Shelby County Historical Society and develop the award-winning JUST FOR KIDS program.