During her over 70-year reign as Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II only visited Sudbury twice, but both those visits made lasting impacts on those who witnessed them.
“I’m by no means a huge monarchist,” said Etienne Saint-Aubin, who was 10 when the Queen made her first trip to Sudbury. “But she was so impressive.”
The longest-serving British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral, Scotland on Thursday, at the age of 96. As Canada’s head of state, she made multiple visits across the country throughout her life, even as support for the monarchy’s role in Canada dropped steadily over the years, her legacy both incredible and complicated.
But her visits to Sudbury hold vivid and fond memories for those who shook her hand, or waved as she drove past.
On June 25, 1959, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip came to Sudbury for the first time, 20 years after her parents greeted thousands of well-wishers at the train station in Capreol.
The visit was part of a 45-day cross-Canada tour. The trip, though brief, would bring her 1,000 feet below the ground during a visit to the Frood Mine. A mining demonstration was staged for their viewing and they visited a hoistroom for an inspection. Several hundred people reportedly lined the thoroughfare and song “God Save the Queen” as the Royal couple passed through the mine gates following their visit.
She also spent much of her first day in Sudbury being shuttled around the city in an open-top vehicle, waving at those who’d crowded sidewalks to catch a glimpse.
Despite his young age at the time, Saint-Aubin remembers it well.
“We had a great view,” he said. “I recall we were up in the courthouse window. My father being there, we viewed it from his office. As she was passing by on Elm Street, it was an exciting thing.”
It wasn’t his earliest memory of the Queen. On June 2, 1953, a ceremony was held in the Sudbury Arena to officially recognize Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. Saint-Aubin’s father, a local judge at the time, took part in the ceremony while Saint-Aubin sat in the stands. He was just four years old, but he remembers the building being packed to the rafters.
“The dignitaries were on what would have been the ice,” he said. “I went accompanied by my mother and I remember we all turned towards this illuminated picture of the Queen, and God Save the Queen played.”
Like many Franco-Ontarians, his thoughts of the Queen were mixed at times, especially as a teenager. He said that in the 1960s as a high school student, he and a small group of other Francophone students decided to stay seated during the daily playing of God Save the Queen in the classroom.
“Eventually they discontinued it,” he said. “At some point, things change. But what hasn’t changed for me is profound affection and respect for her.”
The Queen made her second and final visit to Sudbury, again accompanied by Prince Phillip, in 1984.
It was rainy on a cold, early in October, and the Queen was outfitted in bright blue. Children with flags lined the fences as the Royal couple descended their airplane to the motorcade.
They drove past clustered groups on Skead Road, slowed for a large crowd in Garson, and passed cheering, singing masses along Lasalle, Notre Dame, and Paris.
This visit, though part of another tour, was somewhat unexpected.
“Science North was just being completed,” said George Lund, the science centre’s founding president. “I wrote a letter to the Queen, asking if she would come and open it. It was just a long shot. And she answered back she’d be pleased to.”
The Queen unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion of Science North’s grand opening. She signed the guest book, greeted board members, staff, and their spouses, and took a tour of the brand-new facility, escorted personally by Lund.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “There were all sorts of rules. They emphasized so much that we weren’t to enter into certain types of dialogue, we weren’t supposed to touch her. As I look at pictures of her and going through Science North, I had my hands clasped in front of me, very tightly.”
He added, “It was very exciting. It’s a very weird, sort of spooky thing to deal with somebody that has so much history associated with them.”
Following the tour, Lund joined the Royal couple in the newly constructed cavern for a luncheon, alongside provincial and local dignitaries, and then-Ontario premier Bill Davis.
It’s hard to say just how much of an impact the Queen had on the success of Science North’s opening, but Lund said her presence certainly didn’t hurt.
“It was very exciting because we were finally opening Science North, which was the dream we had worked on for four or five years prior,” he said. “Having her there was something special. It was the beginning of the future of Science North.”
Tammy Moreau was also there that day, though she did not don a sharp suit as Lund had.
Instead, she wore a pink raincoat, hair done up in ringlets.
“I was around seven at the time,” she said. “My grandma was a big fan of the Queen. She was from Wales, so when she brought up that the Queen was coming, she was like ‘we must go see her.’”
Moreau’s grandmother, Nancy Ann Moreau, concocted a plan to ensure her granddaughter could greet the Queen.
“Her plan was for me to give the Queen flowers and curtsy and welcome her to Sudbury,” said Moreau. “So we did this whole thing, where I was practising.”
On the day of the visit, they stationed themselves outside of Science North, flowers in hand, despite the October chill.
“When the Queen came up, I was like, 'Oh, I don’t know if I can do this',” she said. “My grandmother just gave me a little nudge and I ran up to her and said, ‘Welcome to Sudbury, your Majesty.’ I did a little curtsy and gave her the flowers and she thanked me. My grandma was super proud of it, and she got pictures of it.”
The picture of Moreau and the Queen — as well as then-mayor Peter Wong — made its way onto Christmas cards and a set of china plates.
As an adult now employed as a social worker, Moreau has embraced a more nuanced view of the Queen, more cognizant and critical of some of her actions and decisions over her reign. But years after that encounter at Science North, the Queen’s death is a reminder of her grandmother, who died several years earlier, at the age of 99.
“My grandmother loved the Queen,” she said. “So a lot of that comes up when I see about the Queen’s passing; the time that my grandmother was alive. That era is gone. So in that sense, it’s the memories of my grandmother that come up for me, growing up with her.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star