Written by Matthew Cook.
On September 8th 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96, bringing an end to her unprecedent reign of 70 years, the longest of any British monarch, and the longest of any female head of state in recorded history. Other than her historically long reign, the Queen also held the distinction of being the most well-traveled monarch in British history, visiting over 100 countries in her lifetime, which left a lasting impact on the lives of people all over the world.
One of these places the Queen visited was right here in Chilliwack. In fact, she travelled to Chilliwack not once, but twice. The first visit was on 26 October 1951 which involved a simple stop over that lasted a little over ten minutes. Despite the short duration, preparations for the visit began in September 1951, with the creation of the Chilliwack Royal Visit Committee, and one of the first challenges faced by the committee was providing enough space for what was expected to be some 10,000 people. Included in the logistics of the visit was the 35-minute period prior to the train’s arrival in which the crowd was to be entertained. To do it, Alderman Gleig acted as master of ceremonies, with Mr. Martin leading a session of community singing with 4,000 school children and an estimated 16,000 adults. The crowd began to gather at 10 a.m. and continued to arrive until the appointed time of 2:35 p.m. The school children arrived at 1 p.m. at the Robertson School grounds, and continued to wait as the appointed time came and went. Finally, at 3:30, the 844-foot long Royal Train pulled to a stop opposite the royal platform. The door opened and Canada’s Minister of Fisheries was the first to emerge from the train. After greeting Mayor McCammon, the Minister then introduced the Mayor to the Royal couple. As the Princess (who would become Queen in 1952), stepped down from the train the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering played the Royal Salute while the Union Jack was broken out from the masthead. The Princess was given a large bouquet of flowers, inspected the military guards, the guides and brownies, and then set off again. While mingling with the children, the Duke apparently lost sight of the Princess, to which a helpful bystander called out ‘she’s right behind you, Duke.’
The second visit in 1959 was more elaborate and lasted for about an hour. The itinerary for the 1959 visit was as followed:
Around 5,000 people greeted the royal couple at 9:00 p.m. when the Royal Train arrived at the C.N.R. Station. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh descend from rear platform of the train accompanied by Hon. Davie Fulton (Minister of Justice). Mr. Fulton presents the Reeve of Chilliwhack Municipality (W.T. Richardson, Esquire) and his daughter, Mrs. C.H. Patterson. As part of the ceremony, Mr. Richardson presents the Mayor of the City of Chilliwack (T.T. McCammon, Esquire), the Reeves and the Chairmen of Councils of the adjacent municipalities, towns and villages and their wives, Colonel and Mrs. R.J. Carson and R. Hanna, Esquire, V.C. Her Majesty and His Royal Highness are asked to sign Municipal Books for Chilliwack and Chilliwhack.
A memorable moment occurred during the signing of the Municipality Book. As told by the Chilliwack Progress article of July 15 1959, “A pen which had been paid out for their use apparently was hidden in the end pages of the book and the Queen for a moment paused uncertainly as she looked around for it. A member of the royal party moved forward to offer a pen and a spectator ducked through the ropes and ran forward with one, too. It was the Prince, smiling proudly, who helped the Queen out of her predicament by pulling his own pen out of an inside pocket.”
The article also notes that Prince Phillip took with him a memento from Chilliwack: a copy of the 31 May 1939 Chilliwack Progress that contained a picture of Commander A.S. Conway Kilgard, and King George VI during his own royal visit to Chilliwack in 1939. “I was delighted and the Prince put the paper in his pocket,” noted Commander Conway. From there, the Queen and her husband took part in a 45-minute motorcade tour of Chilliwack. Over 25,000 people came to see the Queen and her husband Prince Phillip, and at the time, this was the largest gathering ever to have occurred in Chilliwack’s downtown region.
To this day, many people harbour fond memories of the Queen’s two visits. According to Chilliwack History Perspectives on Facebook and the Chilliwack Progress site, one individual recalls during the 1959 visit: “I lived on Bonny Avenue then and remember standing at the corner of Young Road North when the Queen and Philip drove past heading for Fairfield Island. I can even remember what I wore! It was a real thrill back then!”. Even Ev Parker, one of the volunteers at the Chilliwack Archives, distinctly remembers going with his parents to see the train pull into the station and the Queen waving to the crowd. These are only a few of the many examples of how the Queen left a lasting impact among the denizens of Chilliwack, and no doubt many similar memories still exist across the world. It was a sad day when we all learned about her passing on September 8th, but because of her willingness to travel far and wide and meet so many people, the Queen will live on in the hearts of millions for many, many more years to come.
Chilliwack Progress: https://www.theprogress.com/news/remembering-queen-elizabeths-chilliwack-visit/
Chilliwack History Perspectives: https://www.facebook.com/chilliwackhistory/posts/2507667102844742/
Chilliwack Progress: https://theprogress.newspapers.com/image/77128244/?terms
Chilliwack Progress: https://theprogress.newspapers.com/image/77128787/?terms=%22Princess%20Elizabeth%22&match=1