A look at royal visits in the province

While Queen Elizabeth II turned 90 years old on April 21st, an array of special birthday celebration events are planned for this coming weekend (June 10th to 12th).

These special events and ceremonies include a National Service of Thanksgiving, a special Trooping The Colours parade and an enormous Patron’s Lunch with an expected 10,000 guests.

Red Deer has its own special link with the Queen.

On June 28th, 1990, she came to Red Deer to view the new Paediatric Ward at the Red Deer Regional Hospital. It was the first and only time in history that a reigning monarch has visited the City.

Large enthusiastic crowds gathered to greet the Queen.

However, probably no royal visit created the same level of excitement and outpouring of public affection as the cross-Canada tour in the spring of 1939 by King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (often known as the Queen Mother).

Unfortunately, because they were still quite young, Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret (who came to Red Deer on July 26th, 1980), were not part of that historic tour.

There were two main goals to the 1939 royal visit.

King George VI had ascended to the throne in May 1937. The tour provided an opportunity to introduce the new monarch and his wife to Canadians.

However, it was increasingly obvious that the world was teetering on the verge of another world war. The trip helped to build public support for king and country for very trying times which lay ahead.

King George and Queen Elizabeth arrived by ship in Quebec City on May 17th. They then departed westwards on a special blue, silver and gold train.

There was heavy media coverage of the trip and of the large crowds that turned out to greet the Royal Family. Consequently, excitement grew even more as the royal train approached Alberta.

The train reached Calgary on the afternoon of Friday, May 26th. Huge throngs of people gathered for the event. Many Central Albertans went down to Calgary to catch a glimpse of the king and queen. Others went to Banff where the Royals spent much of the weekend.

After proceeding to British Columbia for three days, the king and queen came back to Alberta on June 1st. Excitement was now at a fever pitch. Special excursion trains were organized to transport people to Edmonton for the official ceremonies on Friday, June 2nd.

The Red Deer School District made special arrangements to ensure that several hundred local school children could make the trip. Red Deer’s City council decided to declare a civic holiday on June 2nd so even more people could go to Edmonton.

The special excursion trains from Red Deer carried an estimated 1,200 passengers to Edmonton on the morning of June 2nd. Another special train from the communities west of Red Deer brought another 600. Many others from Central Alberta headed north on buses or in private cars.

It was estimated that more than half of the City’s total population left for Edmonton. In the words of the local newspaper, Red Deer took on the appearance of a ghost town.

Despite the phenomenal crowds and excitement, there were no serious accidents or incidents. While many returned to Red Deer on Friday night, several lingered in Edmonton through much of the weekend.

The Royal Visit came to an end in Nova Scotia on June 15th.

However, for a long time afterwards, many Canadians continued to recount what many felt was one of the greatest and most successful events in our nation’s history.

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