News that Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8 at the age of 96 has millions of people reminiscing about “the time they saw the Queen.” Some people in Port Alberni recall the time they saw Princess Elizabeth, before she became Queen.
There is a photo included in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives that shows Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, driving through the Albernis on Oct. 25, 1951. The road trip was part of a 33-day Royal Tour the couple took across Canada, which the Princess’s father, King George VI, was supposed to have taken before he fell ill.
Prince Philip himself drove the royal car during the impromptu visit that took them through the twin cities of Alberni and Port Alberni. A second photo in the archives is a closeup of the Princess on the same trip.
Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne a few months later, on Feb. 6, 1952, after her father King George VI died. She was formally crowned Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.
At the time of their visit the Alberni Valley was a thriving forestry town. It was a big deal for the Vancouver Island city to be included on a tour that featured appearances in places like Toronto, where hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to greet the royal couple.
Port Alberni resident Bob Cole said he was only five years old when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the city in 1951. At the time his parents, Arnold and May Cole, owned Klitsa Lodge at Sproat Lake. The lodge was known for its elite clientele, especially American business magnates and Hollywood stars.
“Klitsa couldn’t accommodate her entourage, but she and Prince Philip came out to tea at the lodge, served by my mother and father and staff at the lodge,” he recalled. The Queen’s entourage numbered 60 people and the lodge could only accommodate 46, so the group stayed at Eaglecrest near Qualicum Beach. “They came for tea. “They stopped and had photographs taken at Sproat Falls.”
Cole admits he did not get to see the Queen himself, being something of “a terror” at the time. “I had a bit of an idea of who the Queen was. I remember one (of the staff) telling me she was in charge of looking after me. She took me into a room at the lodge and kept me away from the Queen.”
Patty Archer said her mother was 13 years old and used to tell the story of standing along the parade route. “She always remembered the thrill of the royal couple coming to the rather remote Alberni Valley,” Archer wrote in a social media post. “She was a staunch fan of the Queen her whole life.”
Joyce Evans remembers watching the then-Princess as the royal couple drove through Alberni on Johnston Road. “We went there with our teachers from Alberni Elementary School,” she said.
“My mom, who passed away in March, remembers this day,” Helena Sperling-Beaulieu said. “She was a teenager watching. It was a fond memory for her.”
The B.C. government is inviting people to sign an online book of remembrance of Queen Elizabeth II, at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/organizational-structure/office-of-the-premier/remembering-queen-elizabeth-ii. Messages will be bound into book form and kept within national and provincial archives.
A state funeral will be held for the Queen on Monday, Sept. 19 at Westminster Abbey in London, England.