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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Remembering the Queen: Reflections on a 70-year reign and royal visit to NOTL
John Drope at the Pillar and Post with the Queen in 1973. She visited to commemorate
the opening of Shaw’s Festival Theatre.
John Drope at the Pillar and Post with the Queen in 1973. She visited to commemorate the opening of Shaw’s Festival Theatre. Supplied

Earlier this year, Canadians marked the 70th anniversary of  Queen Elizabeth’s reign as Queen of Canada.

As the Canadian sovereign, she had visited this country many times. Her visits were watched and followed closely not only by avid royalists, but also by people interested in the history and pageantry of the royal connection.

Several days ago, we witnessed what is technically referred to as the “demise of the Crown.” Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, died.

Flags, many in people’s front gardens, are flying at half-mast all over Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It’s interesting to note how much a person who is not Canadian, nor has lived in Canada, is revered by those who are and do.

Whether it’s the need for continuity or a hunger for leaders who are more than just bureaucrats or legislators, or the need for a symbol to look up to, Queen Elizabeth is remembered with love and reverence.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip paid their first official visit to Canada in 1951. Later in that decade and 20 years after her parents made a cross-country tour, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip did the same.

On all of these occasions people flocked to see them. Royal trains were inevitably late as people waited at small-town stations to wave and be waved at in return.

The 1959 visit was important to the people of Niagara because the Queen and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower officially opened the St. Lawrence Seaway, a vital part of life in the region.

In 1973, the Shaw Festival Theatre building officially opened in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Queen did the honours. A performance of “You Never Can Tell” by George Bernard Shaw was mounted for the occasion.

The royal couple stayed at the Pillar and Post during the visit. The records note they travelled with a staff of 11, including dressers, a valet,  ladies-in-waiting,  travelling yeomen, a footman and a page.

On a personal note, during a royal visit in the 1980s, I was invited to a luncheon for the Queen and Prince Philip.

Along with about 1,200 people, I had the opportunity to curtsy – and move on. In spite of the numbers of people she met, the Queen remained unfailingly courteous and charming.

People are now talking about the future. They wonder if King Charles III will measure up.  Whether the public approves or not, Charles III has been proclaimed  king.

For those who concern themselves with these matters, it may be worth remembering that 121 years ago another “older” man became king following the lengthy reign of his mother.

At the time, the public were concerned about his reputation and a playboy and gambler.  King Edward VII was the sovereign who led England out of the repressive Victorian era and into the 20th century.

Will King Charles III manage to modernize the monarchy in the 21st century? During his life so far, he has shown himself to be profoundly interested in things that matter to so many of us.

As Prince of Wales, he was patron of the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts in Queenston, an organization dedicated to the preservation of our built heritage. He has been known to speak out on conservation and the environment issues as well. These are just two examples.

The concept of the Crown is deeply embedded in Canadian life. Queen Elizabeth II was an integral part of our country. Only in the future will we know if King Charles III is able to follow in her footsteps.