Brush with history From farm visit to infamous water-taxi incident, Manitobans fondly remember interactions with Queen
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/09/2022 (266 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For Brian Bailey, the death of Queen Elizabeth is almost like losing a loved one.
For two days, Bailey, his parents and siblings, hosted the Queen, Prince Philip and their children — including Charles, who is now King — at their farm near Carberry in the summer of 1970.
“It almost feels like we’ve lost a family member,” Bailey said Thursday, shortly after a bulletin went around the globe notifying the public that the Queen had died.
“We had her to ourselves for almost a day.”
If they say you return to places you enjoy, well, the Queen certainly must have liked Manitoba.
She came to the Keystone province six times: the first time in 1951 as Princess Elizabeth, when she made her first official visit to Manitoba, and the final time in 2010.
In between, the Queen came here during her tour of Canada in 1959, to mark the 100th anniversary of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation in 1970, to visit Winnipeg, Dauphin, Brandon and Dugald in 1984, and to visit Winnipeg in 2002 — the year of her infamous water-taxi trip on the Red River.
The longer-than-expected boat ride — which happened when the engine quit — obviously didn’t dampen her spirit about Manitoba. She came back eight years later. In fact, she had a good laugh about it.
The visit to the farm, then owned by Bailey’s dad, T. Roy Bailey, the province’s farmer of the year in 1967, saw the Royals, including Prince Charles, then 21, and Princess Anne, then 19, spend part of a Sunday and Monday there. It gave them a chance to rest, away from the crowds and media, as part of a break from their tour of the province which included going as far north as Churchill, Thompson and The Pas, but also Dauphin, Brandon, Portage and Winnipeg.
They examined Bailey’s crops and cattle, went horseback riding, and had tea, cake and conversation with the farm family while relaxing on lawn chairs.
“We found (the Queen) very friendly and chatty,” Bailey, now 77, said. “The whole family is so well versed with being comfortable with people. They are very easy to talk to.”
Years later, he met the Queen again when arrangements were made for his dad to see her during her last visit to Manitoba in 2010.
“For her to meet my dad 40 years later and ask, ‘How is the farm?’ was so special to us,” he said. “Prince Philip said, ‘How are the crops, Roy?’”
“It was so special for them on our farm. They simply enjoyed life.”
“We found (the Queen) very friendly and chatty… The whole family is so well versed with being comfortable with people. They are very easy to talk to.” – Brian Bailey
About that water taxi trip.
Gary Doer, who was premier at the time, was one of the few passengers to witness the event first-hand; the engine had conked out while taking the Royals from The Forks to the St. Boniface Cathedral.
“Philip immediately stood up and the Queen started laughing,” Doer said.
“He said ‘lash the boats together, lads.’” He was taking control and the Queen was laughing. She was beside herself. She said, ‘Well, he was in the navy.’”
“When we got to the other side, everything was fine and even the media didn’t know what had happened. But Philip, later that night, mentioned the naval rescue when he gave out the Commonwealth awards.
“The next day, in the British tabloids, you would think we put dragons in the river. But one of the Queen’s staff said she absolutely enjoys when all the pomp and circumstance ends with unscripted events like that.”
Doer also remembers other anecdotes: how the Queen seemed to personally greet every single Manitoban who showed up with a Corgi, how she and actress Nia Vardalos compared notes on who had the most Greek cousins (turns out it was the Queen, through Philip), and also, during a dinner at the legislature, on what was happening elsewhere around the world, including the war in Iraq.
“I asked her how she keeps up on world affairs and she said she watches the BBC and CNN to keep up,” he said.
“We talked about world issues and, while she didn’t state her opinion of Iraq, she said, ‘We don’t invade everyone we don’t like, do we?””
“I quite enjoyed all of my time with her. She has met every historical figure and every American president since Eisenhower. When you get a chance to be with her, it is a chance to be with history.”
Gord Cartwright, owner of Splash Dash Tours, remembers the engine cutting out. After all, he was the boat operator.
“When we got to the dock, she looked at me and said ‘that was interesting,” and then Prince Philip went by and said, ‘You did a fine job,” and then the RCMP officer turned to me and said, ‘I don’t want to be in your shoes.’”
“But it has been a weekly thing since then for people to say, ‘Is this the Queen’s boat that broke down?’ People still talk about it.”
Cartwright said he doesn’t believe his boat ran out of gas.
“I only had a quarter of a tank of gas in it, because it was the end of the season, so I didn’t have a full tank,” he said. “But I think it was so cold outside that there was some condensation and so water got into the engine.
“But I made her laugh. Not too many people get a chance to make the Queen laugh.”
”I made her laugh. Not too many people get a chance to make the Queen laugh.” – Gord Cartwright
Former lieutenant governor Pearl McGonigal said she treasures the times she met the Queen.
“It is very sad today, really sad. It doesn’t seem almost possible,” McGonigal said.
“When I first met her, I think I lost my tongue. I was so tongue-tied. I was so in awe of her, but she made me feel like I was someone she met all the time.”
McGonigal said at one meeting, the Queen asked her to visit her in Windsor Castle. During another visit, McGonigal chose to serve pumpkin cheesecake.
“They didn’t know what pumpkin cheesecake was, so they asked for the recipe in advance at Buckingham Palace. When she came here, she tasted it. She smiled, and said it was good.”
“When I first met her, I think I lost my tongue. I was so tongue-tied. I was so in awe of her, but she made me feel like I was someone she met all the time.” – Pearl McGonigal
Former Manitoba premier and governor general Ed Schreyer recalled many conversations he had with the Queen throughout the years. He met her briefly the first time, being presented to her as a 22-year-old MLA, and later as premier, and then governor general.
“It still comes as a surprise, in a sense, that she has died,” Schreyer said. “It was just two days ago she met with the new British prime minister. I’m not the sentimental sort, but I had a tremendous amount of good feeling for her.
“We will not see the likes of her for a good long time.”
Schreyer said during her tour to Manitoba in 1970, he orchestrated a visit she remembered throughout the years.
“It was unorthodox, but I picked up the phone and called the Milltown Hutterite Colony to see if the Queen could visit a Hutterite colony,” he said.
“The next day they said yes. The bottom line is she enjoyed it greatly, and on at least two occasions, she said she enjoyed it as a very remarkable visit. And two or three days after the visit, when the Queen and Philip were leaving at the airport, a small group from the colony came to see her off.”
Schreyer recalled another message he received from the Queen, via her sister Princess Margaret, while he was governor general.
“I’m not the greatest letter writer, so I thought instead of monthly reports, I would send her quarterly reports and just write a bit longer,” he said.
“When Princess Margaret visited us at Rideau Hall, she told me she had a message to me from her sister, the Queen. It was funny to add the words ‘the Queen,’ I thought. So we went into the office and she said the Queen wanted to tell me she enjoyed receiving my letters, but she said she’d appreciate to get more of them, but half as long and twice as frequent.
“She also told me while she was interested in the economy, she could get an economist to tell her. She wanted to know how (prime minister) Pierre (Trudeau) was getting along with the family and other things. I then tried to make my letters to her a little more folksy.”
Allison Abra, warden of St. John’s College and a former history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, specializing in modern British history, said the Queen oversaw changes to the British empire and the Commonwealth.
“During her time as Queen, Britain’s place in the world has changed,” Abra said. “It has gone from a foremost world power to where it is now.
“While the decline of the British empire is not something we can lament, she had to help navigate that changing position in the world. She took her role very seriously, as head of state and head of the Commonwealth. Different countries chose to change from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, but she went with the flow and respected the choices they made.”
Greg Smith, a history professor at the University of Manitoba, said future generations will likely focus on the Queen’s “role as a point of cultural and historical consistency and personal integrity over the 20th century and into the 21st.
“Amid a slew of political and social changes following the Second World War, including multiple prime ministers and the massive economic and cultural changes in Britain and abroad over the last 50 years of her reign, the affable and steadfast Queen was always there.
At the Manitoba legislature, a book of condolences was placed at the base of the grand staircase for dignitaries, politicians and members of the public to express their sympathies to the Royal Family.
Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon was the first to add her message to the book Thursday afternoon.
Before setting down to write, Filmon was embraced by Premier Heather Stefanson, who stood solemnly nearby.
“On behalf of all Manitobans, we feel the loss and sadness of today,” the vice-regal wrote. “We also feel the love the world and the Commonwealth had for our beloved Queen.”
Speaking with reporters earlier Thursday, prior to the news the Queen had died, Stefanson recounted a meeting with the monarch at the legislature when she last visited the province in 2010.
“She’s an incredibly warm, intelligent and amazing individual who has done so much for the world, frankly, and for the Commonwealth,” Stefanson said. “It was an amazing experience.”
On the grounds near Government House, a single bouquet of 12 pale pink roses was placed by a mourner where a statue of Queen Elizabeth had stood before being toppled during a protest in July 2021.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Manitobans mourn Queen Elizabeth
Manitobans mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II offered their thoughts and prayers to the Royal Family and reflected on the monarch’s influence in the province during her 70-year reign.
“I was saddened to learn today of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In 70 years as Queen, Her Majesty developed a special relationship with our province and with Manitobans… From Her Majesty’s first official visit as Princess Elizabeth in 1951 to her final visit as Queen in 2010, the Queen celebrated Manitoba’s centenary, toured many locations and businesses and made personal connections with thousands of Manitobans. As a young woman, Her Majesty pledged to devote her whole life to service and to show ‘an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart.’ The Queen accomplished this and so much more.”
— Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson
“It is with profound sadness that His Honour and I learned of the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. For more than seven decades, Her Majesty had been respected and revered for her steadfast leadership and unwavering commitment and service to the citizens of Manitoba, Canada, and the Commonwealth. Her Majesty enjoyed a wonderful relationship with all of the people of Manitoba, during her six visits to our province. She spent time in communities large and small throughout our province, making numerous lasting personal connections.”
— Manitoba Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon
“My sincere condolences to the Royal Family and to all in mourning. The Queen was a good person and as someone who swore an oath to her as the leader of the Official Opposition I feel a particular connection at this time. Creator bless her on her journey.”
— Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew
“I am truly saddened to hear of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. She approached her role with a sense of dignity and a sense of service. As the world changed amidst upheaval and chaos, the Queen was a constant for 70 years. To all mourning her loss, we grieve with you.”
— Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont
“Few of us will ever forget where we were, or what we were doing, when we heard the sad news of Her Majesty’s passing. For Queen Elizabeth has meant so much, to so many, for so long, it is difficult to imagine life without her. In her famous speech on the occasion of her 21st birthday, she promised that ‘my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,’ and she kept this promise with perfect fidelity.”
— Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman
“As a proud Commonwealth country, we grieve with unspeakable sadness the loss of our longest-reigning monarch. Her Majesty’s sense of duty to Canada was both deeply held and demonstrated in her actions. As Queen of Canada, she was not only a witness to our historical evolution as a modern, confident, and self-assured nation – she was an active participant. She was with us to open the St. Lawrence Seaway. She presided over our centennial celebrations. Later, she even opened the Olympic Games in Montreal.”
— Conservative Party of Canada interim leader and Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen
“It is rare in this life for a person to become the embodiment of an ideal. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, through unrelenting and devoted commitment to public service, became its symbol. As Winnipeg’s mayor, I had the great pleasure and privilege of hosting and accompanying the Queen and Prince Philip during their official visit to Winnipeg in 2002. My mother, upon meeting Her Majesty, discovered they were both a little over five feet tall and the exchange between them left my mother with a smile that lasted for days, and a pride in being the littlest member of our family.”
— Former City of Winnipeg mayor and current mayoral candidate Glen Murray
“We are saddened to hear the news from Buckingham Palace regarding the death of Her Majesty the Queen. First Nations people have a special nation-to-nation relationship with the Crown. We are two sovereign nations who come together to honour the treaties between us, and we look forward to working with the new King as treaty partners. We join many others across our Treaty lands and traditional territories in sharing condolences about Her Majesty’s death.
— Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean
“I am very saddened to learn of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and I express my deepest condolences to the Royal Family… As sovereign nations, First Nations in the Treaty territories located in Manitoba greatly value the sacred Treaty relationship with the British Crown. I extend my heartfelt sympathy to His Majesty the King as he assumes his responsibilities as Monarch, including nurturing the Treaty relationship with First Nations.”
— Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse
Updated on Thursday, September 8, 2022 8:15 PM CDT: adds quotes, picture
Updated on Thursday, September 8, 2022 10:17 PM CDT: typo fixed