Canadian royalists remember Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as they await King Charles’

Canadian royalists remember Queen Elizabeth's coronation as they await King Charles'
In this June. 2, 1953 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh wave to supporters from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, following her coronation at Westminster Abbey, London.

Jean Hess remembers being 12 years old and camping out on the pavement outside Buckingham palace with her mother, cousin and aunt the night before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.

Hess, now 81, says her efforts were rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime: the queen looking “tiny and beautiful” in her golden coach, Tonga’s queen yelling hello to Hess from a carriage in the procession, and a glimpse of the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne in the palace windows. But mostly, she remembers the joy of the crowd.

“It was happy and people were singing,” said Hess, who now lives in Victoria, B.C.

“I could remember everybody having a singsong on the side of the road, and the police were really friendly.”

The announcement last week that King Charles’ coronation will take place in May is bringing back memories for Canadian royal fans, many of whom still remember the hope and excitement surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s coronation nearly 70 years ago.

During the ceremony the King will swear an oath before being anointed, blessed, and consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will then place a crown on his head.

Jill Peapell, who is originally from London but now lives in Halifax, said the ascension of a beautiful young queen was a symbol of hope for a country that had just suffered through the Second World War and years of postwar food rationing.

“We’d only just come out of that era, and we’d obviously lived through the Blitz and all the other stuff in London and surrounding areas, so (the coronation) was a huge relief,” she said in a phone interview.

“The coronation made a huge impact, I think, on all of us, because it was our hope for the future.”

Peapell, like Hess, camped outside the parade route the night before the coronation alongside family. She remembers it as a “superbly happy occasion” despite “atrocious” weather.

“Everyone was sharing their sandwiches and there was a comradeship, you know, everyone was really helping each other,” said Peapell, who was 16 at the time.

Buckingham Palace announced last week that King Charles will be crowned May 6 at Westminster Abbey alongside Camilla, the Queen Consort.

The ceremony “will reflect the monarch’s role today and look toward the future, while being rooted in long-standing traditions and pageantry,” the palace said.

The queen’s coronation was considered a modern affair, mostly because it was the first time a world event of that magnitude was televised. Several Canadian royals fans told The Canadian Press that the event was one of the first times they ever watched television, after their parents bought or rented TV sets especially for the occasion.

“I do recall my father putting up Union Flags over our front door,” wrote David Stephen in an email. “And more importantly, I remember he bought a TV so we could watch it,” said Stephen, who grew up in Derby, England but now lives in Toronto.

Jamie Hill, of St. Agatha, Ont., said he remembers being four years old and going next door to watch the coronation on his neighbours’ TV in Kitchener. His grandmother went to London and managed to get a ticket in the bleachers for the procession, which was “terribly exciting,” he said.

His grandmother later bought four pieces of a tapestry that was created for the coronation. A framed piece of it still hangs in Hill’s home.

By all accounts, the 1953 coronation was a lavish event, with a procession that stretched over three kilometres long, according to Garry Toffoli, the executive director of the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust. Then-prime minister Louis St-Laurent was one of hundreds of Canadians inside the church, while a large contingent of armed forces and RCMP marched in the procession.

Canada was also specifically mentioned in the oath to govern taken by the queen.

Currently, few details have been released on how King Charles’ coronation will be marked, either in the U.K. or Canada.

Details of Canada’s participation in the ceremony, as well as events in Canada, “will be released at a later date,” the Privy Council said in an email.

But Toffoli and the royal fans believe King Charles’ coronation is likely to be a lower-key affair than his mother’s, taking into account the King’s preference for a slimmed-down monarchy and the fact that people in the United Kingdom and across the world are struggling with inflation.

“To haul out the gold coach and splash out millions right now, in my view, they have to be careful,” Hill said.

Hess agrees that the coronation is likely to be scaled down due to economic concerns, but feels there will still be plenty of spectacle “because nobody does it like the Brits.”

Both she and Peapell said they’ll be getting up early to watch the coronation, but their days of camping outside Buckingham are behind them. Instead, they’ll watch the way so many Canadians watched the last one — on television.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2022.

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