By Roderick Sergiades.
Aside from the royal wedding last year and a birth expected any day now, most of us don’t give more than an idle thought to the monarchy and Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada, and 15 other Commonwealth states.
Yet the monarchy’s presence in Canada goes far beyond coins, bank notes, postage stamps, and the Queen’s portrait gracing every hockey arena and post office in the Dominion. Although individual members of the royal family are the face of Canada’s role as a constitutional monarchy, it is not always the stuffy and dour institution many believe it to be. William and Catherine, Harry and Meghan have all done their bit to help usher the monarchy into the 21st century.
Furthermore, over the years, there have been occasions when the royal family has shown not only a lighter side, but exhibited a humorous face, intended and otherwise.
Although she hailed from, perhaps, the greatest era of the ‘stiff upper lip’ and is well known to this day for speaking “we are not amused” (if indeed she ever said that), Queen Victoria was well known (at least in her earlier days) for being great fun and having a ribald sense of humour.
In one instance, she may have been greatly amused by a royally-big mistake from the peak of her reign. Although there are several similar typos attributed to reports covering Queen Victoria’s movements in the late Victorian era, perhaps the most magnificent typo in history befell The London Times. In the late 1890s that prestigious paper reported the Queen’s crossing of the Menai bridge with the headline: “The Queen Herself Pissed Graciously Over The Magnificent Edifice” instead of “passed.” No doubt Buckingham Palace was not amused, but Queen Victoria’s take on it remains a secret to this day.
About twenty years later the future King Edward VIII (who ostensibly abdicated in 1936 for the woman he loved) made a cross-Canada tour as the Prince of Wales. Thanking Canadians for coming to the aid of the mother country in The Great War, his 1919 visit entailed the use of one particular motor car for much of the cross-country journey. A wealthy Montreal businessman loaned his 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost to the future king. One of the most prestigious (if not the pinnacle of automotive status) cars then, the Silver Ghost was the benchmark by which all cars were judged for reliability and luxury. And, yet, it was not ‘fit’ for the future monarch, as it was reported at the time that the son of King George V loathed this generous loan.
Would David, as he was known to family and friends, have preferred a humble Ford Model T, the people’s car? Not likely. Although the real reason for the Prince of Wales’ dislike has been long lost to the mists of time, it is quite likely he detested such a flashy car greatly associated with the nouveau riche. The royal family being very much old money (then and now), and of very conservative values, much favoured Daimler and Lanchester, two Rolls-Royce rivals well known for their understated and reserved elegance. So, it would appear, even the Prince of Wales couldn’t have it all much to his chagrin and our amusement. For who else would frown upon a Rolls-Royce?
Twenty years later, David’s younger brother made his only trip to Canada as King George VI, to rally Canada’s support for the expected war that was to come.
Travelling with his wife, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mum, a nickname affectionately bestowed upon her by Canadians), he ended up at a nationally broadcast ceremony in Winnipeg. Aside from his wife, other dignitaries attending included Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and mayor John Queen.
With so many kings and queens in attendance, the CBC announcer began incessantly tripping over himself, as he tried in vain to formally and properly address each official correctly on live radio.
CBC Radio One rebroadcast this moment a few years ago leaving the author in tears, as I couldn’t stop laughing at further evidence that reality is often funnier than fiction.
In more recent times, during a royal visit to Canada in 1970, Queen Elizabeth II attended a ceremony involving the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) near Winnipeg, which was celebrating its 300th anniversary that year. A condition of the company’s royal charter decreed that whenever the monarch visited Canada, a rent of two beaver and two elk be paid.
Taking place at Lower Fort Garry (and only the fourth and last time to pay ‘the rent’), in place of the usual rodent pelts the Queen was presented with a tank containing two live beavers destined for the London zoo.
As the event progressed the beavers became somewhat bored with the human ceremony and proceeded to do what comes naturally. At one point, the Queen noticed the intense action taking place before her and asked HBC Governor Viscount Amory, “Whatever are they doing”? Being the consummate gentleman, he replied, “Ma’am, it’s no use asking me. I am a bachelor.”
While not actually occurring in the Dominion, the Queen nonetheless has the last laugh in an incident that took place about a quarter century ago.
Discreetly leaving the confines of her English country estate, the Queen took the reins of her own Range Rover and drove solo to the local village bakery seeking a dessert for that night. Dressed in upscale, but ‘peasant’ English attire, and very much keeping to herself, she looked over the wares for sale. Not long after arriving, a lone middle-aged woman approached the world’s most famous lady, and asked quite innocently, “Has anyone ever told you that you look awfully like the Queen”? Her majesty missed not a beat by replying very drolly, “How very reassuring.”