When the soon-to-be Queen came to Chilliwack

When Chilliwack reveled in a 'glorious' 13-minute visit by Princess Elizabeth, and an interview about what it means for Canada to have its own King or Queen

By Tyler Olsen | September 9, 2022 |5:00 am

After more than 70 years as Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II has died.

The Queen’s death leaves millions of Canadians mourning, others ruminating on the presence of a monarchy in 21st Century life, and most remembering a life that had spanned eras.

It also means that her son, Charles, is now King.

The transition has been extensively planned by governments across the world. But it will inevitably bring change—and the transition, mourning period, and future coronation will inevitably be different from the last time a new monarch was crowned.

The world is remarkably different today from when Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. So too are the public’s views on the monarchy and its role both in the future and in history. And yet, despite those changes, the Crown (and the monarchy that personifies it) remains at the core of how Canada functions and governs itself.

Today, we look back at how the Fraser Valley reacted the last time a monarch died, and at Elizabeth’s “glorious” visit to Chilliwack 51 years ago. We also talk to a local expert about what it means to be King of Canada.

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George’s death

On the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 6, 1952, King George VI was found dead in his bed. In Chilliwack, thousands of kilometres away, the editors, journalists and other staff at the local newspaper would have awoken to the news.

The paper was published every Wednesday, and on that day, the newspaper’s staff was able to get a copy out the door that announced the monarch’s death and included statements mourning the death of the King from a range of local officials, many hailing his wartime leadership. (The newspaper also revealed one immediate impact from the King’s death: the cancellation of all school classes across the region. We have asked the province if schools will be open tomorrow; they did not provide an answer.)

The  story also included statements wishing luck to the country’s new monarch.

“The young Queen, whom we met so recently will be in all our thoughts at this time and we trust that she will realize the affection and loyalty we all feel toward her,” Chilliwack Mayor T.T. McCammon said.

McCammon’s allusion to a recent meeting was in reference to a brief visit by the then-Princess Elizabeth less than two years prior.

A previous visit

In 1951, Elizabeth (not yet Elizabeth II) and her husband Philip had stepped off a train in Chilliwack for a brief visit.

Progress news editor Jack McLeod wrote that the morning and early afternoon had “foamed with anticipation,” climaxing with the arrival of the royal couple 55 minutes late.

You can read the coverage of the event for yourself here.

Elizabeth and Phillip stayed in Chilliwack for 13 minutes. The couple stepped off the train and into a crowd of 4,000 schoolchildren. The Princess inspected an honor guard, and boy scouts and girl guides, spoke with local officials, and then left.

“A magnificent setting,” Prince Philip was quoted as saying.

The residents of Chilliwack—and especially the folks who worked at The Progress—were delighted.

The newspaper would later suggest that the couple bestowed special attention on the town. “At no other point in Canada that we recall did they leave a reception platform to spend more than half their time among the people,” an editorial declared.

From the 13-minute visit, the paper generated eight-plus pages of stories and photos. (Another editorial wrote—with cause—about the paper’s pride in their incredibly comprehensive coverage.)

Elsewhere, McLeod wrote that, following the pair’s departure, everybody started talking in a “cauldron of excited conversation that bubbled with diminishing loquacity until the event was completely talked out.”

The event was not perfect for everyone. A small news item headlined “Monoxide Hits Club Contingent” suggested a group of Cub Scouts had been accidentally poisoned during their attempt to meet with the Princess.

“The Cubs were brought over in a closed truck and I am sure it was gas fumes that made them all sick,” the group’s commissioner said. “Most of the Cubs came around after they were given seats with the schoolchildren.”

Another boy fell out of a tree while trying to spot the pair.

That didn’t dim the event too much. By the end, The Progress declared Elizabeth’s visit to be “one of the most glorious 10 minutes in the district’s history.”

(Down the valley, The Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News reported that more than 800 people attended a memorial service for the King, with a reverend noting that he had been unprepared to lead the Commonwealth but had persevered anyways.)

📷 Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News, courtesy The Reach Gallery Archives
📷 Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News, courtesy The Reach Gallery Archives

Elizabeth’s coronation

Two years after that visit, and a little more than a year after the King’s death, the valley partied to celebrate Elizabeth II’s coronation.

The week prior, The Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News declared in a massive headline that a “Monster Celebration” was planned for the coming week.

The event was to be “one of the most colourful celebrations ever undertaken locally,” include a large parade, and end with a gala ball. (The story only mentioned Elizabeth II in passing.)

In Chilliwack, around 3,000 people attended a coronation celebration. That event featured oaths of loyalty and an honour guard firing 100 rifles in three volumes in front of a large audience.

And then she was Queen.

What the Crown means

Many, if not most British Columbians likely knew Elizabeth as the Queen of England. For many, her presence on Canadian coins may have been mostly a reminder of the country’s colonial roots and a quirk of history.

But she was also Queen of Canada, and being this country’s monarch is not the same job as being the United Kingdom’s monarch.

In 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster to confirm the independence of its dominions, including Canada. That, along with other steps over the ensuing decades, gave Canada the ability to create its own Constitution and form its own rules of how the monarchy should function—and, indeed, if it even would have a monarch in the first place.

That, of course, didn’t mean severing links with the British Monarchy. Rather, Canada and many other Commonwealth countries share a monarch.

In Canada, the governor-general is the monarch’s federal stand-in and undertakes the King or Queen’s formal duties, like delivering the Throne Speech, signing new laws, or calling on a leader to form government. Upon Elizabeth II’s death, all her duties and responsibilities as monarch passed immediately to her son, Charles.

Many people probably don’t understand that the Queen, not our Prime Minister, is Canada’s Head of State, UFV history professor Barbara Messamore told The Current.

The separation between our Head of State and Head of Government is baked into how Canada is structured, Messamore said. And it is the relationship between the Crown and government that gives politicians the legitimacy needed to make laws and run the country.

“The Crown is really at the heart of Canada’s constitution,” she said. “It’s at the heart of our Parliamentary system and our legal system. Treaties with Indigenous people are made in the name of the Crown.”

The King or Queen is the human embodiment of those laws and traditions, but the Crown is designed to go on, even when an individual monarch dies.

“The monarch, who is the most visible symbol of [the Crown] makes the Crown visible to people so we kind of conflate, in a sense, the function of the Crown and the person of the Queen,” Messamore said.

“One of the important things to stress is continuity; the expression is the Queen Is Dead, Long Live The King so there’s a seamless transition. Here in Canada too, we need take no action in order to bring this into effect; there will be a proclamation, but it’s really just announcing what’s happened.”

Some of Canada’s newest citizens already saw this first-hand when a citizenship ceremony was delayed. The oath to the Queen that participants were set to take had suddenly become outdated. After officials sorted out what to do, the new citizens performed a slightly modified oath, which, as of yesterday, requires swearing allegiance to a king, instead of a queen.

As Massamore said, “Charles has become King.”


Join more than 25,000 other Fraser Valley residents by subscribing to our newsletter. Every weekday morning you’ll get a new feature story and other stories, news, and events from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Mission and the rest of the valley. See a recent newsletter here.

Get FV Current in your inbox.

Plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Fraser Valley Current. You can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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