The 1959 Canadian Tour of The Queen
by Claudia Willetts
During the summer of 1959, the Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, undertook the longest royal tour in Canadian history, Trevor Hall tells us in Royal Canada: A History of Royal Visits to Canada since 1786, that the catalyst for the visit was the ceremonial opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, but beyond that, the intent was to visit many outlying districts never before visited by royalty. All ten provinces, four of the Great Lakes, both Territories, and a visit to the United States were covered in an exhausting fifteen thousand mile, forty-five day tour.
The Weekend Magazine’s wrap-up insert gives a statistical portrait of the strenuousness of the tour: 17 military parades, 21 formal dinners, 64 guards of honour, 193 bouquets, 381 platform appearances, and well over 7,000 handshakes. The writer also informs us that the Queen came not just as sightseer, but as Queen of Canada, and that her purpose harked back to the early days when English kings “showed the crown” after their coronation. It was the introduction of a crowned monarch to her people.
Commonwealth Today published a supplement to honour the tour, in which it painted a broad picture of the route. They began in St John’s Newfoundland, with a welcome from Prime Minister Diefenbaker, among others, crossed the island to Stephenville, detoured through Labrador to Schefferville, in northern Quebec, stopped in Gasped, Arvida and Three Rivers along the St Lawrence, visited Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa (Dominion Day), followed by Stratford, London, Sarnia, then north to Orillia and Muskoka, before heading south for a day in Chicago; then on to Sault Ste Marie, Port Arthur and Fort William. Next a flight took the royal couple to Calgary for the Stampede, thence to Banff, Golden, Kamloops, Vancouver and Victoria, before flying north to Whitehorse and Dawson City, east to Yellowknife, then down to Uranium City in northern Saskatchewan. From there, they visited the oil fields of Alberta on the way to Edmonton, where a train took the royal couple through southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. After short stops in Sudbury and Trenton, they flew on to Fredericton, Charlottetown, Cape Breton, and finally Halifax.
The Sphere issue of 22nd August, 1959 shows photographs of the Queen inaugurating the St Lawrence Seaway with President Eisenhower in Canada, and Vice President Nixon on the border with the United States. The Library also has a copy of the menu for the luncheon tendered by the City of Cornwall, Ontario, at which Thousand Island dressing was served. Not to be overlooked was a ten-minute visit to a new shopping mall called The Golden Mile in eastern Toronto, which is commemorated photographically in the Annual Report (1958-1959) of Loblaw Groceterias Company Limited
The Governor-General at the time was the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, who recalls in What’s Past is Prologue, an interesting party at Government House in Ottawa during the tour, at which the Queen was hostess, attended by only “unofficial” guests, and also a respite stay by the royal couple at his home in Port Hope, Ontario on the return leg of the tour.
The Queen herself summed up the purpose of her tour in a radio broadcast, according to “Elizabeth II of Canada” in the Spring 1982 issue of Monarchy Canada: “If I have helped you to feel proud of being Canadian”, she said, “if I have reminded you of the strength which comes from unity and if I have helped to draw your attention to the bright vision of the years ahead, I shall feel well satisfied…”