In true English fashion, rain drenched Niagara-on-the-Lake not long before a memorial service for the Queen on Monday.
As 11 a.m. neared, people gathered around the cenotaph on Queen Street to honour Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8 after a 70-year reign.
Queen Street was quiet as the crowd stood in silence for two minutes.
One couple stood in the crowd holding the British flag as they watched the proceedings, organized by the Niagara-on-the-Lake branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“My whole life, she’s just been there,” Kent Needham said afterward. “It really is like the loss of a grandparent.”
Needham, though he lives in NOTL now, grew up in Halifax, England. He recalled being seven years old when the Queen came to his hometown for the opening of a bank.
About one-third of people in the U.K. have seen or met the Queen, said Katy Lloyd-Cowden, who was visiting from England.
As a little girl, Lloyd-Cowden remembers waiting hours to see the monarch. When the Queen finally arrived, she caught only a quick glimpse of her before she got in a car and left.
“My first time seeing her was at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal,” said Elisabeth Buffey-Needham.
“My mom and I went because we knew that she was (going to) be there with Prince Philip in her finery going in for an evening. I’m sure she had a lovely little crown (with) silver, but it was very glamorous,” she added.
The Queen was someone they simply grew up with in England.
“My husband said yesterday that she was like a blanket that kept everybody warm,” said Lloyd-Cowden.
“She’s always mentioned and she’s always talked about and she’s always in the school assemblies. And when you’re a Guide, and when you’re in Brownies, you swear an oath to her,” she said.
The Queen’s death touched many people. For Needham, it was “much, much deeper,” he said.
A lot of people in the U.K. are very emotional about her death, said Lloyd-Cowden.
“Nobody expected to react in the way that they have,” she said.
It was a shock, she said. One day the Queen was meeting Britain’s new prime minister and two days later she was gone.
The NOTL service included a wreath-laying, prayers by Legion padre Sheldon Kofsky, and speeches by Lord Mayor Betty Disero and Al Howse, president of the NOTL Legion branch.
Howse remembers being a teenager in 1973, when the Queen visited Niagara-on-the-Lake for the opening of the Shaw’s Festival Theatre.
“My father was the parade marshal and so many members of the community wanted to be in the parade out to Fort George,” Howse told The Lake Report after the memorial service.
“He had to use the entire soccer field to organize and marshal everyone,” he added.
His father also got to attend a performance for the Queen at the Shaw and then was invited to the royal dinner with other dignitaries.
Howse was pleased with the turnout despite the inclement weather.
“And I hope that it meant as much to the community as it did to me,” he said.
Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report