Memories of a monarch: Locals recall personal encounters with the Queen

·9 min read

September 8, 2022 marked the end of an era as Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign of the British Commonwealth came to a close with the monarch’s death at the age of 96.

It’s in the poignancy of death that memories are often revived, and memories have been flooding back for many Manitobans who fondly recall one or more of the Queen’s six visits to the province.

The first took place in 1951, although she was still a princess at the time. In 1959, she returned for her first official cross-country tour as Queen.

Manitoba’s one hundred entry into Confederation was marked in 1970, and the province played host to the Queen on a somewhat grander scale. This time, she came accompanied by her husband Prince Philip and two oldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

That whirlwind tour included a stop at a farm near Carman and an excursion to Lower Fort Garry. In total, 16 communities were paid special visits, including Steinbach.

Fourteen years would pass before the Queen’s next visit, this time in 1984 when Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin, and Dugald were the primary centres of interest.

The Queen and Prince Philip paid two more visits to Winnipeg in the coming years, one in 2002 and their final one in 2010.

The 1970 Visit

Ron DeCruyenaere of St. Adolphe enjoys telling a story his father once shared about a close encounter he had with the Queen. It was 1970 and the monarch was in St. Pierre-Jolys attending a parade.

DeCruyenaere’s father, donning his World War II uniform and decorated with medals, was among the local veterans taking part.

“He saluted [the Queen] as she slowly walked along shaking hands and sharing a few words with all the veterans,” DeCruyenaere says. “She stopped and made a comment in French to the gentleman beside my father. [The vet] replied with a strong Scottish accent, ‘I’m terribly sorry, ma’am, but I can’t understand a word you just said.’”

According to DeCruyenaere’s father, the Queen enjoyed a good chuckle over that blunder.

Darl Friesen of Niverville remembers trying to get a closeup glimpse of the Queen in Winnipeg during that same trip, as the monarch arrived by boat at the river landing that would later become known as The Forks.

Friesen was an impressionable 14-year-old armed with her first camera and a cheap roll of black-and-white film.

“It was a drizzly day, as evidenced by the fashionable squall jackets in the crowd,” Friesen muses. “There was a lady who wouldn’t get out of my way [for the picture]. She was wearing the very practical [plastic] hair protector used in those days.”

Friesen finally got her photo, but only from an unfortunate distance. If you squint just so, you might make out the blur of a Queen receiving a bouquet of flowers.

“I was a teenager, so being excited I think would be an overstatement,” says Friesen. “I would have been more excited to see the Monkees in person. But we thought it was cool to be able to say that we saw the person whose picture hangs on the wall of the school and is on our coins.”

Bill Gordon of Niverville recalls with some sheepish amusement a very direct encounter he had with the Queen when he was just 11 years of age.

As memory serves him, his Boy Scout troop was given the distinct honour of serving tea to the Queen and her entourage at a gala at the Fort Garry Hotel. As luck would have it, it was Gordon who served the Queen’s tea.

“I had just placed the saucer and cup in front of her and she asked me if the tea was hot,” Gordon says. “I stuck my finger in her cup and said, ‘Yes, it’s hot.’ I remember she either smiled or smirked at me and said, ‘Thank you.’ Someone else promptly brought her a new cup and profusely apologized for my lack of proper etiquette.”

For Gordon, a second memory also comes flooding back with perfect clarity. It was the licking and lecture his parents imposed after the event had concluded.

Recollections of the 1984 and 2002 Visits

The Queen’s royal tour in 1984 took her to the newly opened Dugald Costume Museum. Jay Thompson recalls attending that event along with his entire elementary class to sing for the Queen. Thompson was 12 at the time.

Danae Doerksen of Niverville recalls a similar memory of the 2002 royal visit. A 14-year-old Doerksen performed along with the Steinbach Youth Chorus at The Forks to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

Based on Doerksen’s memory, it was a chilly day and the choir waited patiently in the cold as the Queen, Prince Philip, and their pet Corgis made their way past them. Doerksen was in the front row.

“We took off our jackets so we would be in our performance outfits, but she stayed [at a distance] for a while and we were shivering by the time they came by,” Doerksen remembers. “Her husband felt sorry for us and asked if we were cold.”

It’s fair to say, for Doerksen at least, that Prince Philip made a greater impression than the Queen, who didn’t interact with the choir members at all. Still, Doerksen recalls with equal fondness the choir members’ screeches of excitement when they were first chosen to perform at the prestigious affair.

The Citizen’s editor Evan Braun has his own tale of attending a black-tie event as a 19-year-old in 2002. The gala dinner was held at the Manitoba Legislature.

“I had the honour of attending a royal dinner on October 8, 2002,” Braun recalls. “For this occasion, each MLA in Manitoba was invited to attend with their spouse, along with many other local celebrities and VIPs. But collectively, all the MLAs decided to give their seats away to young people from their constituencies.”

Braun was the lucky recipient of a ticket from MLA Jim Penner, who represented the Steinbach riding at the time.

On the night of the prestigious affair, he has a memory of his father dropping him off at the back entrance to the Legislature. Feeling already intimidated in his rented suit and tie, the young Braun made his way to the rotunda via a carpeted path replete with royal guards and attendants in full regalia.

“I remember feeling a swell of pride when everyone stood up upon the Queen’s entrance into the rotunda to sing ‘God Save the Queen,’” says Braun. “It was so trippy to sing that to the actual Queen.”

The dinner that followed included at least five courses featuring foods local to Manitoba, including many different types of wine and caviar.

“One of the interesting bits of royal protocol which the guests were instructed in is that, when the Queen put down her fork at any point during the dinner, this signified that the course was over, and the wait staff swarmed in and immediately took away everyone’s plate, whether they were finished with it or not,” Braun says. “When the Queen is finished eating, everyone is finished eating. But of course the Queen was very gracious and held onto her fork somewhat white-knuckled so that people had a reasonable enough time to finish.”

It was only after the dinner was complete, though, that Braun discovered he, too, had been of special interest that night.

Braun bears the same name as a more notorious man who’d been arrested earlier in 2002 for throwing a pie into the face of Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Braun came to learn that an undercover security officer had been commissioned to this state dinner to keep an eye on Braun.

“He’d been placed at our table mostly because my name had set off a red flag at some point during the vetting process,” Braun muses. “Obviously they knew I wasn’t the same Evan Braun who’d caused all that trouble, or I wouldn’t have been let in the door at all. But it’s a part of the evening I’ll never forget.”

That was only the first of two royal encounters for Braun that week. The next morning, he happened to come face to face with Prince Philip at a dedication ceremony for Red River College’s new-at-the-time Princess Street campus.

Close Ties

Niverville resident Ludolf Grolle grew up in London between the ages of eight and 25.

“As a child, we were very royalist and there was a portrait of the Queen in our dining room,” Grolle says. “We stood for the national anthem and always observed two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day.”

In London, Grolle attended the prestigious Emanuel High School, which was founded by Lady Dacre, first cousin to Queen Elizabeth I. Because it was a school with a military connection, Grolle says that the royal family paid visits every so often.

Over the years, Grolle had numerous close encounters with the Queen. One took place at his elementary school as her motorcar drove past and she waved at him and a group of eager young students.

Another took place at the Royal Tournament, which Grolle attended with his mother. He and a group of others approached the royal box in order to get a closer look at or a handshake from the monarch.

In 1977, he had his closest encounter of all, thanks to his mother’s connections as a volunteer at Royal Tournament events.

“When I was 24, me and my mother, who loved Canada, were there to see the Princess Patricia Regiment from Canada, as was the Queen who also loved that regiment,” Grolle recalls. “When the Queen was leaving, my mother and I rushed to the line where the volunteers were and my mother let me stand closer—and this time the Queen stopped, smiled, and shook my extended hand with her gloved hand.”

For Grolle, September 8 marked a day of emotion and even a few tears.

“I was very sad to hear of the Queen’s passing and quite emotional,” Grolle admits. “It seemed that from 1953, my birth year, to her death in 2022, my whole life to that point ran through my brain in poignant memories.”

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen