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Might rain on Queen's parade

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LONDON -- Everything is set for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, including, sadly, some very English weather.

The forecasters are predicting a 100 per cent chance of rain for Sunday's signature event -- a grand 1,000-vessel flotilla on the Thames, with Queen Elizabeth leading the way in a gilded Royal barge on a 10-kilometre procession down the river from Hammersmith and Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge and the India Docks.

The high for the day -- with more than one million people expected to gather along the banks of the legendary river -- is to be 10 C.

Rain is forecast to soak much of this island nation throughout the four days of celebration that mark the Queen's 60 years on the throne. The festival begins today with the Epsom Derby and ends Tuesday with a royal carriage procession from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen will appear on the famous balcony from which she has been waving to her subjects since her coronation in 1952.

In between Saturday and Tuesday are sandwiched more than 10,000 street parties across Britain, including a huge lunch at Battersea Park. More than 2,000 beacons are to be lighted across Britain on Monday, with one of the last being atop Canada House on Trafalgar Square.

With wild understatement, one British newspaper opined Friday that this will be a bad weekend for republicans in London. Whether the crummy weather dampens her subjects' ardour is an open question, but after so many years on the throne, the Queen still has an astonishing 78 per cent approval rating in this country.

In what is a dress rehearsal for the London Olympics in late July, key arteries in the centre of the city have already been closed for the long weekend, causing even more traffic chaos than normal.

The Canada Memorial at Green Park, across from the palace, is off limits because a temporary stadium is being erected around it for a royal concert on Monday. The memorial to more than 110,000 Canadians who died fighting in two World Wars and more than one million Canadians who passed through Britain on the way to those wars was opened by the Queen in 1994 after lobbying and fundraising by Conrad Black.

As Canadians already know from having seen so many royals pay their respects again and again to troops in Canada, many of Canada's vestigial connections to the Crown have a strong military flavour, and much of the respect for the Queen here and in Canada arises from the pluck Princess Elizabeth and her kin demonstrated during the Blitz and throughout the Second World War.

A starting point for Canada's military connections to Britain and the Crown for visitors to London has always been the memorial in Westminster Abbey to Gen. James Wolfe, who perished conquering the French on the Plains of Abraham. Wolfe's statue is adorned with flags left there by Canadian regiments that served in the Great War.

Like many Canadians of a certain age, I have always been dazzled by the Queen.

One of my earlier memories is of a sunny day in the summer of 1959 when my brothers and I, dressed in our Sunday finest, stood at the corner of High Street and Arthur Street in what was then known as Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) to witness Her Most Gracious Majesty and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, pass by in a cavalcade. As the royal couple came into view, her loyal young subjects each fanatically waved small Union Jacks and Red Ensigns because that was what they saw everyone else doing.

I was five years old and to me, the Queen had a radiant, transcendent beauty as she rode in an open convertible and with none of the security that now envelopes her wherever she goes.

Although the British Empire was already in eclipse, these were still heady times for young Elizabeth, and Canada still considered itself a dominion. We sang God Save the Queen every morning at school, where the maps we studied were still daubed with large swathes of imperial pink in Africa and specs of imperial pink in the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean. As Canada and Australia were painted "pink," too, it appeared to this schoolboy as if the Queen still ruled over much of the world, from the Zambezi and Tanganyika to Tasmania and the Klondike.

I cannot count how many times I have seen Queen Elizabeth and her heirs over the past half-century, whether in Canada or Britain.

When Princess Diana died, I stood for hours near Trafalgar Square awaiting her funeral procession, which included Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince Harry and Prince William. Three years later, when Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother attended a fabulous military tattoo at Horse Guards Parade that included colonial relics such horse-drawn gun carriages and a band of Gurkha pipers, I saw a great gathering of the clan, with four generations of the royal family in attendance.

Rain or shine, I intend to watch the flotilla muster on Sunday near Battersea Park and then walk to Tower Bridge, where Queen Elizabeth is to take the royal salute.


Matthew Fisher is a columnist for Postmedia News.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2012 A19

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