Did you hear the one about the Queen and the Purity Factories worker? It's all true

·2 min read
Purity Factories in St. John's — seen here with a mural painted in 2017 — is the setting for an often-told story about Queen Elizabeth's encounter with a factory worker during her visit in 1997. (Submitted by Randy Whitten - image credit)
Purity Factories in St. John's — seen here with a mural painted in 2017 — is the setting for an often-told story about Queen Elizabeth's encounter with a factory worker during her visit in 1997. (Submitted by Randy Whitten - image credit)

The joke goes like this: Queen Elizabeth, on her 1997 visit to St. John's, is given a tour of Purity Factories, longtime Newfoundland producer of cookies, crackers and all things sweet.

Chatting with workers on the production line, she asks an employee, "And what are you making?"

His response: "$12.50 an hour, Your Majesty."

In the telling of the joke over the years, the details aren't always the same. Often it's a woman the Queen speaks to. The worker's hourly rate changes from version to version, too — $7.50 an hour? $15 an hour? But the details aren't important — it's just a good joke, after all. It's too good to be true.

But here's the thing: it really happened. Not only that: the Queen's visit delayed a strike.

Susan Reid, who has worked at Purity Factories for 43 years, was on the floor that day — working at the hard bread table — and says the story is true.

Her co-worker, she explained in a recent interview, was nervous — and too shy to speak to CBC News about it himself — and while working the factory ovens may have had other things on his mind when the Queen asked him what he was making.

"We were in the middle of contract negotiations, and that was on his mind, I guess, and she kind of said, you know, 'What are you making?' and he said, 'Twelve' or '$12.50 an hour,' whatever it was at the time, and she just laughed," said Reid. "She didn't laugh out loud but just kind of chuckled and went on."

Her co-worker was "tormented" about it for a long time, she said.

Purity Factories
Purity Factories

"We all knew the guy and what he was like. He's a shy person, and he was really nervous about meeting the Queen," she said. "We just joked about it for years, that's all. He's not working at Purity Factories anymore but he still gets tormented about it."

Reid said the workers' collective contract had recently expired and they could have gone on strike but they decided to hold off until after Elizabeth's visit.

"We knew the Queen was coming, and we figured it wouldn't be a nice thing to do when the Queen was coming, so we didn't do it."

Workers did go on strike that August and got a pay increase, making the "$12.50 an hour" history — and turning the story of the worker who said it into local lore.

"It's not an urban myth. It was actually said," said Reid.

She said she'll always remember what a lovely person Queen Elizabeth was.

"She was a very nice lady. She didn't put on a big show or anything like that. She was just like anybody else walking through the plant. She was a very nice person."

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