Ninety-five year-old Oak Bay resident Dr. John MacDonald remembers the special excitement generated by the first visit to Canada of a reigning monarch in 1939. Victoria was festooned with colourful bunting and tens of thousands of patriotic subjects thronged the city’s streets when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured communities around Greater Victoria by motorcade. Everyone was “very happy and proud,” MacDonald says, recalling a festive atmosphere unlike anything the city had ever seen.
But in his role as a special constable along the motorcade route on Oak Bay Avenue, duty came before celebration. “When the King and the Queen came by, I had to turn my back on them,” he recalls. “I had to look at the crowd to ensure that nobody was going to cause any trouble. So, I really didn’t get a good look at them.”
For generations, Victorians have enjoyed courtside seats to the pomp and pageantry of regular royal visits. Our city is named in honour of Queen Victoria, and our most famous landmark—the Empress Hotel—recalls that monarch’s role as Empress of India during the heyday of the British Empire. The more than 3,000 glittering lights of the Legislature were first turned on in 1897 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
The first royal visit to Canada occurred in 1786 when another Prince William (the future King William IV) visited St. John’s as part of a naval contingent. Victoria had to wait nearly a century more to welcome its first royal visitors, when in 1882, Sir John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, then serving as Dominion Governor-General, toured the city with his wife Princess Louise—daughter of Queen Victoria. The Princess had caused a scandal over a decade earlier by marrying Campbell, a ‘commoner,’ but by the time of their B.C. visit, the couple were popular representatives of the Crown in Canada. Princess Louise enjoyed sketching and made several fine drawings while in Victoria, including a view of Mount Baker. The local Chinese community erected a spectacular ceremonial arch on Store Street to welcome the royals. Meeting with various dignitaries, the Marquess used his time in the provincial capital to announce the completion date for the transcontinental railway—a key promise of confederation.
Further royal visits to Victoria followed and are too numerous to describe. In 1901, Prince George and the Duchess of Cornwall and York (the future King George V and Queen Mary) crisscrossed the Dominion by royal train, receiving a rapturous welcome in Victoria. The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) made several visits to Canada, enjoying leisure time at his ranch in Alberta. In 1919, he laid the foundation stone for the statue of Queen Victoria on the lawns of the B.C. Legislature building. An avid sportsman, the ‘Royal’ in Royal Colwood Golf Club is thanks to his patronage.
Queen Elizabeth first came to Victoria as a young Princess in 1951 with her husband the Duke of Edinburgh. Since becoming Queen in 1952, she had made 22 tours to Canada including visiting all provinces and territories at least once.
In British Columbia, many people will recall special royal moments such as Prince Charles and Princess Diana opening Expo 86 or the Queen dropping the ceremonial first puck at a Canucks exhibition game in 2002. As a child, I remember first glimpsing the Queen on a royal walkabout (a tradition inaugurated by her mother during her 1939 tour of Canada) at a crowded Beacon Hill Park during the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
In 2002, I was fortunate to attend a special luncheon for the Queen at the Empress Hotel to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. As a member of the organizing committee, I remember the touching moment an elderly Second World War veteran approached me to offer his prisoner-of-war diary as a gift to the Queen. It was passed on dutifully to Her Majesty’s private secretary.
Past Chair of the Victoria Branch of the Monarchist League of Canada Bruce Hallsor has been involved with many royal visits. “They’re the kinds of things that mark big milestones in our country and they tend to be milestones in people’s lives,” he says. “When I talk to people who’ve met royalty, it is something they will remember for the rest of their lives and tell their grandchildren about.”
Hallsor notes that the upcoming royal visit will be particularly exciting as the Duke and Duchess are bringing along their two young children—George and Charlotte. “The Monarchy renews itself with each generation. And each generation will add its own flavour and reflect its times,” says Hallsor. “We know that William will be our King one day. It’s exciting to have him come and be more familiar with our city and our province.”
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive at the B.C. Legislature for their official public welcome on September 24, Victorians can look forward to an exciting milestone visit from the next generation of royals and look back with pride on a long history of royal visits to Victoria—our most regal of Canadian capital cities.