Upon the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Penticton, B.C. residents shared fond memories made during her reign.
Brian Remus was just 10 years old when he was tapped to take part in a special event with his classmates.
It was June 2, 1953, and he was among the 12 students from the Brompton Oratory Primary School in England allowed to join the crowd lining the streets to Westminster Abbey. He had a close-up view of the pomp and ceremony that came with the coronation of a new monarch.
And, with his Brownie camera in hand, he caught a shot of a young Queen Elizabeth II en route to her destiny, no more than 15 feet away.
Technically it was a picture of the queen, behind one of his fingers, the consequence of having not yet mastered the art of photography.
Regardless, the Penticton resident had a front-row seat to a historic event that millions around the world watched live on television, for the first time in history. For him, though, the coronation helped lay the foundation of warmth and affection for the queen being mourned upon her passing, worldwide.
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The picture has long since faded away but Remus’s memory of the day is still vivid and he couldn’t help but reflect on her reign upon hearing of her death.
“I wish she hadn’t died. We knew at 96 years of age the inevitable would happen, but please, not sooner than later. I would have preferred to see it later,” he said.
“She had been here on 22 visits to Canada, and I never got a chance to be up close and personal with her again, but I would just have to say, the queen played a significant role in how Canadians acted, how we viewed ourselves and the monarchy.”
Her life, trials and tribulations, and now her death have acted as markers in time for many people around the world, including Okanagan residents.
Marie Ablett was in Grade 10 when Queen Elizabeth had her coronation. Far from the action in a Kelowna classroom, Ablett remembers the event clearly seven decades later and though she has long since divested herself of most knickknacks, one item from that day has withstood the test of time.
She and her classmates had each been given a 10-inch spoon on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, adorned with a royal emblem, and the class had their attention turned to all the news coming out of the U.K.
“I remember we also were given a bronze-type coin … maybe everyone in Canada (or the) world got one,” Ablett said, noting she doesn’t have that anymore.
Ablett considers the queen a representation of a time that had otherwise faded into history, a keeper of traditions and a certain kind of propriety that no longer exists.
She, like Remus, said that the country was lucky to have her to look toward all these years.
Historian Bob Hayes said that for Kelowna, like many areas of the country, ties to the monarchy run deep.
“The whole Okanagan, by about the early 1900s, had become very English, and a lot of people settling here from Ontario, from England from other parts of the United Kingdom,” Hayes said.
“They were settling here, bringing with them their ideas of the Royal Family connections through English traditions, and that was reflected when the First World War broke out in 1914. The number of young men and women who signed up to go overseas, in a lot of cases to fight for mother England, were still connected to the old country. So we were a very, very English community, for better or for worse for many years.”
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It’s only in the last century that the city became more diversified, which Hayes pointed out was for the better. But the monarchy still held a place in the hearts of many from the area and all of the Queen’s visits to Canada were very well attended.
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Okanagan three times.
In 1959, she and Prince Phillip rode in a convertible through Vernon, B.C., and then went on to stay at the Pennask Lake Lodge. In 1971, the queen, along with Prince Charles and Princess Anne, visited Penticton, then drove up to Kelowna and stopped at City Park before moving on to Vernon for lunch.
And in 1983 Queen Elizabeth II landed at Kelowna airport and headed off to Vernon for lunch.
Hayes remembers going to the 1971 stop.
“I was in Grade 11,” he said. “It was May 6, there was a big gathering down at City Park … There were a couple of big Edwardian grandstands. They were big wooden grandstands full of people, hundreds of people, thousands of people, waiting for the queen’s vehicle to arrive.”
He said it was quite dramatic because the old floating bridge that was opened in 1958 by the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, was the route of the royal cavalcade of cars.
“And we knew that the queen was in there, also Prince Philip and a 20-year-old princess,” he said. “They arrived at city park and they got out of their vehicles and of course the crowd rose was applauding and the queen waved, and probably some little girls presented her with some flowers. She did a very quick speech to walk about. ”
Nothing dramatic happened but even the banal responsibilities taken on that day stuck with Hayes.
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“I remember that morning… Going out and mowing my parents lawn because I thought ‘the queen is here today. I want our lawn in Glenmore to look nice,’” he said. “Silly, but that’s how people react to it. It was a case of ‘we want the we want to put our best foot forward.’”
Whether future royal visits will have the same impact remains to be seen. Discussions of removing the monarch as the head of state have been a constant over the years.
According to an Angus Reid survey published in December, more than 50 per cent say Canada should not remain a constitutional monarchy indefinitely, while one-quarter say it should.
The same poll suggested that as long as Queen Elizabeth II continued to reign, 55 per cent of Canadians supported continuing to recognize her as the official head of state.
How King Charles fares is something all are interested in.
“They were saying on the news today that Charles has arrived back in London, and people are reaching out and shaking his hand and he responded,” Hayes said.
“I think the English monarchy realizes the need to be more involved with the people probably reduce the size of the Royal Family. The English Royal Family has got way too many hangers-on, you know, when you’re 47th in line to the throne and you still get a pension or whatever, I think it’s a bit silly.
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