When Queen Elizabeth II visited Fort St. John in May 1971, the only thing that could have been more co-operative for the occasion was the weather.
Thousands had turned out to greet Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip upon their arrival at the Fort St. John airport.
But it was a chilly day of just 7 degrees on May 8, with “gale force” winds gusting to 64 kilometres per hour, discomforting those who stood on the tarmac for an hour, many dressed in double winter gear, awaiting the royal landing.
“The thing that strikes me about Her Majesty’s visit is the attitude of the crowd. Patient, interested, and resigned to the cold wind on the exposed airport ramp,” wrote Alaska Highway News columnist Leith Boulter.
“Just a big family outing with a minimum of formality, yet with all proper respect to the visitors."
Elizabeth died Thursday at age 96, Buckingham Palace said Thursday, the longest-reigning monarch in British history with 70 years on the throne. Her passing follows Philip's death last year at age 99.
Both made the trip to Fort St. John in 1971 as part of a tour celebrating British Columbia's centenary anniversary of joining Confederation.
“It’s certainly a time in history, an end of an era,” said Fort St. John historian Larry Evans on Thursday.
Evans was just three years old when Elizabeth was crowned in 1953. He's earned three Queen's jubilee medals since, his first as part of a 50th golden anniversary that coincided with his retirement as the city’s fire chief in 2003. He received a diamond jubilee medal for her 60th anniversary in 2012, and a platinum jubilee medal for her 70th in August.
“She’s the only queen I ever knew,” said Evans. “When we sang God Save The Queen in school, there was always a picture of her and Prince Philip in the classroom.”
Alaska Highway News carried a front page report and photo spread of the Royal visit in 1971, reporting the Queen and Prince arrived at the airport as scheduled, 1:40 p.m., to an estimated crowd of 4,000—despite what the local weatherman said was the "most horrible weather possible" for their visit.
"But where is her crown?" asked one little voice that could be heard from the crowd, Elizabeth and Philip "wreathed in smiles" as they stepped off the plane.
"To the vast crowd on the tarmac, if a picture is worth a thousand words how much more satisfying in living color!" the News reported.
"Regrets, of course, that Princess Anne was missing. She wanted to come—but doctor's orders. Here's the Queen in a soft navy belted coat with white trim and jewelled earrings and lapel-pin sparkling...not from the dime store but the real dazzling thing."
The Royal couple were welcomed by an official reception party including then Mayor Peter Frankiw and Mrs Frankiw, MP Bob Borrie and Mrs Borrie, MLA Ed Smith and Mrs Smith, Mayor Glen Kyllo and Mrs Kyllo of Taylor, Mayor Rod Richmond and Mrs Richmond of Hudson's Hope, local Chamber president Tony Brummet and Mrs Brummet, and Mr and Mrs Crandall.
After signing a guest book, the couple stopped several times to talk with Royal Canadian Legion veterans, including Victoria Cross holder Alec Brereton, who had made a special trip north from his home in the Lower Mainland to be present for the occasion.
Philip, the News reported, was quick with his quips while speaking to the crowds.
"Cold up here, isn't it? Aren't you cold?" the Prince asked of a little Cub Scout.
"Teacher — Do you protest?" he asked of another in the crowd. Turning to a bemedalled Legionnaire, he said, "How many of you are there — how many turn out on a Saturday night?"
"You don't know? Best to count them all and divide by two!"
Also gathered for the welcoming were the community bands and choir, the Cubs and Scouts, the Friendship Society, and the Brownies and Guides. Elizabeth “had a word with 30 or more of the spectators, among whom the children were far from being overlooked," the News reported.
"Lighthearted small talk—but from a Queen—to be remembered and passed along for many years to come."
The royal visit was brief, extended only by a few minutes as refuelling of their aircraft wasn’t completed on time. The pipe band played the Queen and the Prince back onto the plane, and the crowd stayed to wave them off as they returned to the skies.
“The ones she spoke to were fairly bubbling with pride and happiness,” Boulter wrote of the Queen, adding she “needed no protection whatsoever.”
“She was as safe in Fort St. John as if she were at home in her sitting room,” he wrote.
“No problem with litter on the ramp, no vandalism, just the usual disappointment that all of us could not be in the front row."
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