Queen Elizabeth II’s Sept. 8 death at the age of 96 has brought back memories of one of her many visits to Canada for longtime and former Thompson residents.
The queen, who was born in 1926 and reigned for 70 years, starting in 1952, came to Canada 22 times during the course of her run as the longest-serving British monarch and before, first visiting the country as a princess in 1951and last touching down on Canadian soil in 2010.
On six of those trips, she came to Manitoba and in 1970, the province’s centennial, she toured the north, making stops in Churchill, Gillam, Norway House and The Pas.
Elizabeth flew into Thompson from Churchill and was greeted by about 500 people at the airport on July 10, 1970. She and Princess Anne stopped at the hospital and then went to the T1 mine site, along with Prince Phillip and Prince Charles, who became King Charles upon his mother’s death. The biggest crowd during her Thompson visit was in the downtown area, where a July 13, 1970 Thompson Citizen article estimated there were 12 to 15,000 people gathered to witness her walkabout.
Susan Henderson Wilding, who no longer lives in Thompson, was at the hospital when the queen came by, and at the ceremony where Elizabeth placed a copy of Thompson’s city charter, which took effect July 15 of that year, in a box that was later placed in the cornerstone of City Hall. She was also part of the crowd who watched the royal family’s evening walkabout.
“It seemed like the whole town showed up somewhere that day to see our special visitors, recalls Wilding, who remembers being envious of her friend Patricia Bilows, who was at Inco when the royals were touring the mining operation and was spoken to by Prince Charles.
”I think all of us that day were so thrilled to see the queen up close and now that we look back just realize how much she did throughout her long reign and how respected she was by so many people around the world,” said Wilding, whose father took many photos of the visit. “Having British roots made this royal visit an extra special event for us.”
Volker Beckmann, who was 23 when the royal family visited and still lives in Thompson, as he has since the late 1950s, apart from when he was in university, remembers being with his then-friend and later wife Marsha and witnessing their walkabout, which took place by what is now Canadian Tire and the Strand movie theatre.
“We did see the queen and princess and Charles, Prince Charles at the time, walking by,” said Beckmann, who says he is definitely not much of a monarchist, though he did later attend an event in Ottawa six years later at which the queen and Prince Phillip were present. Regardless of his personal feelings about royalty, however, the 1970 visit was clearly a momentous occasion for Thompson, which had not even been on the map a dozen years earlier.
“It was a big deal at the time, to have the queen of England right here, no doubt about it.”