Canadian Royal Heritage Trust

A National Educational Charity

Princess Margaret Celebrates British Columbia’s Centenary, 1958

by Claudia Willetts

Halfway between the famous statement renouncing possible engagement to Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955, and her wedding to Mr Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, Princess Margaret found solace in continuing her royal duties in the form of travel. The Princess spent the first two weeks of a month-long coast-to-coast tour of Canada in July of 1958, touring British Columbia in honour of its centennial year. Dennis Bardens in Princess Margaret, notes that British Columbia worked her hard, but that there was much fun had also. Helen Cathcart in Princess Margaret, speaks of saluting aircraft creating the initial “M” in formation flying, and of the first royal fleet review held in Canadian waters when the Princess took the salute of Canadian, British, and United States warships. But the author also speaks of seven Canadian bachelors who had been selected, briefed and rehearsed for weeks beforehand, to dance with the guest of honour.
Gordon Langley Hall informs us in Princess Margaret: An Informal Biography, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took great security precautions on account of the “Dukhobor Freedomites” who might stage their unpredictable undressing or bombing demonstrations. However, on her first Sunday morning in Canada, Princess Margaret attended Christ Church Cathedral, where she sat close to the wrought-iron altar rail before which her parents were married. It had been a gift to the cathedral from Westminster Abbey. That afternoon, the Princess visited a ranch belonging to the widow of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia at the time of the 1939 royal tour by her parents, and where they had stayed for a time. This was followed by an evening press reception at the Empress Hotel for 1,860 members of various media outlets. Their consensus was that Princess Margaret was sweet on the surface, but far from demure underneath, and very outspoken.
Monday brought her first official engagement, a formal welcome at the provincial Parliament buildings, followed by a royal garden party for a crowd of 4,500 people. Among those presented to the Princess was a Boer War veteran who remembered being reviewed by Queen Victoria. With the capital Victoria at her feet, Princess Margaret left for Nanaimo and the biggest birthday cake in the world, large enough to hold one hundred blazing candles symbolizing the centenary.
It was like Princess Margaret to wish to see British Columbia’s frontier towns, so next she flew seven hundred miles north to the Cariboo region, where beverage rooms were kept dry, out of respect for the occasion. After viewing a spraying natural gas well, Margaret travelled on to Prince George, where she panned for gold at a spot where explorers Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser had exchanged goods with native peoples. At Williams Lake, the Princess had a wild stagecoach ride, before enjoying a noisy country rodeo and a flapjack lunch. She was glad of the rest offered for a while by a tourist camp in Kelowna on Lake Okanagan, where Group Captain Townsend had stayed, though she found time to dedicate a floral clock and open a new bridge.
“The Little Princess” was the Indian name given to Princess Margaret on her visit to Courtenay, where she enjoyed the Native Brotherhood’s festival of joyous welcome. Then on to the city of Vancouver where she attended the Lieutenant-Governor’s ball before leaving British Columbia, having scattered good will wherever she went, and leaving behind many memorable days in the lives of British Columbian communities.