FROM THE ARCHIVES OF THE W.B. EDWARDS STUDIO: Princess Elizabeth visits Quebec City in 1951
Submitted by Martin Edwards
Editors’ note: The following story, submitted by Martin Edwards, custodian of the W.B. Edwards photo archive, appeared in the Feb. 16, 2022 edition, as the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth celebrated the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, marking her 70 years on the throne. W.B. Edwards documented Princess Elizabeth’s first visit to Quebec City in 1951. Martin Edwards has graciously agreed for the QCT to republish the text and photos in this edition in honour of the Queen’s life.
Queen Elizabeth began her 70-year reign following the death of her father King George VI on Feb. 6, 1952. Did you know that in October 1951, just a few months before she became queen, Princess Elizabeth was in Quebec City, the launch point of a royal tour to Canada? Just as today’s young royals are asked to share some of the royal duties – which Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex recently opted not to do – the 25-year-old princess was called upon to carry some of the burden for her ailing father. Thus the five-week, 15,000-mile Canadian visit with her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Two-year-old Prince Charles and one-year-old Princess Anne stayed back in Britain.
It was the princess’s first major tour and her first visit to North America. They set off a week late due to concern about the king’s failing health; to make up for lost time, the couple arrived in Canada by air rather than the traditional sea route, landing at Montreal’s Dorval airport. After being greeted in Montreal by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, Governor General Harold Alexander and a crowd of 15,000, they set off by train for Quebec City, the starting point of the tour.
The royal couple was welcomed to our city by Premier Maurice Duplessis during a visit to the legislative council of the Quebec Parliament (the term “National Assembly” was not widely used until 1968). From there they moved on to the original site of Université Laval, where they were met by Archbishop (later Cardinal) Maurice Roy. In those days, high-ranking members of the clergy were as prominent as politicians and wouldn’t miss out on any significant public event. A stop at the Citadelle and the Plains of Abraham for some military pageantry was also on the schedule.
The princess and Philip toured the Old City in an open convertible limousine, making their way through large and enthusiastic crowds. There were surely more monarchists here in the day, prior to the rise of Quebec nationalism and the exodus of many Anglos from the province. Or perhaps Quebecers enjoyed a royal show as much as the next person, as demonstrated by the popularity in this province of the Netflix series The Crown. While in the city, the royals were fêted at an elegant state banquet at the Château Frontenac.
Noting that many Quebecers were of French origin, the narrator of a British/Pathé newsreel optimistically declared at the time that Quebec was “a fine example of how one race can live happily with another and still keep their old traditions.” Duplessis, not to be outdone, declared in his address at the state dinner that the French-speaking people of Quebec “have for centuries been faithful to the Crown, recognizing it as a symbol of authority and freedom.” The princess responded that she felt not only among friends but among compatriots. As the tour moved on to Ottawa, Montreal and the rest of Canada, each city tried to outdo the other in terms of crowd size and enthusiasm. Four months later, Elizabeth began her reign as queen.