‘Thrill of a lifetime’ Manitobans recall encounters with the Queen
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Queen Elizabeth’s six visits to Manitoba thrilled huge crowds who turned up hoping to get a glimpse of her while she took part in everything from ceremonies to building tours.
For the lucky few who got a chance to make small talk with Britain’s longest reigning monarch, those memories became even more precious following the 96-year-old’s death at Balmoral Castle in Scotland Thursday.
They share their stories at dinner parties, when the Royal Family is brought up in conversation, or when friends discuss the most unlikely things to happen in their lives.
Some are fortunate to have keepsake photos from a time when smartphones and digital cameras weren’t around.
The Free Press spoke to four people who met the Queen during her tours of Manitoba.
Some were brought to tears when they found out the Queen had died, bringing her 70 year reign to an end and making her son, Charles, king and Canada’s new head of state.
Here are their stories.
Chatting with the Queen after winning the Manitoba Centennial Derby in July 1970 was one of the moments that made Ron Turcotte realize how far he had come in life.
Turcotte, 81, was a teenage lumberjack before becoming one of the greatest jockeys of all time in thoroughbred horse racing.
He rode Secretariat to the Triple Crown in 1973.
When he met Elizabeth three years earlier, she was keen to hear about his experience riding Northern Dancer before that horse went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1964 with a different jockey.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime. Meeting the Queen was really something special,” Turcotte said from his home in Drummond, N.B. “Northern Dancer was the Queen’s favourite horse, so that gave us plenty to talk about.”
Her love of horses and racing was well known.
She presented Turcotte with a trophy after he won the Manitoba Centennial Derby on Fanfreluche, a filly sired by Northern Dancer.
Turcotte, who became a paraplegic in a horse racing accident in 1978, went on to meet the Queen several more times at events in Canada.
Among his many honours, he was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1974.
He was saddened to learn of her death, after following media coverage of her poor health, which limited her public appearances in her final months.
During his Hall of Fame career, Turcotte also met the Queen Mother.
“I started out as a lumberjack, and you never dream of meeting these people,” he said. “They were all beautiful moments. They’re something you don’t forget.”
When she was 14, Danielle Kryschuk was thrilled to be invited to perform for the Queen along with fellow members of a Flin Flon hoop dancing troupe.
The monarch was on an 11-day Golden Jubilee tour of Canada with her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, when she visited The Forks in downtown Winnipeg in October 2002.
Kryschuk expected the Queen to watch the dance and move on among the throng of well-wishers.
However, Elizabeth went off script and approached the troupe.
“She came up to me and asked, ‘How many hoops do you do?’” said Kryschuk, then a Grade 9 student.
Her answer — she danced with 21 hoops — left Elizabeth impressed.
“She said, ‘Oh, that’s marvelous, that’s beautiful,’” said Kryschuk. “She walked away, and I was swarmed by reporters asking, ‘What did she say?’”
At the time, she didn’t think it was a bid deal, given her young age.
The enormity of the moment sank in as she became older and she recounted the story with people who’ve never heard it.
Now 34, she knows how fortunate she was to have had the “surreal” encounter, which sparked an interest in the monarchy.
“It was probably one of the best moments of my life,” said Kryschuk, who cried when she found out the Queen died. “She was so nice, so kind. I’ve always been able to say, ‘I met the Queen, I talked to her.’”
The world felt different to royalist Jodi Maxwell-Lee, while she tried to grasp the announcement of Elizabeth’s death.
“I was surprised I was so emotional, that I actually cried over someone I only spoke to for 10 seconds,” said Maxwell-Lee, who was 10 when she met the Queen in Dauphin in October 1984.
She and other students from her school in Grandview made the 30-minute drive to Dauphin for the official opening of the Selo Ukraina heritage and festival site.
During a walkabout, Maxwell-Lee moved toward a set of stairs to see the Queen up close.
“As she was coming down the stairs surrounded by security, for some reason she stopped and she kind of looked at me and nodded her head,” she said.
The starstruck child thought, “Should I curtsy?”
“I kind of did this pirouette. It was ridiculous at the time,” she said.
The Queen asked if she was from Dauphin and what her parents did for a living. Maxwell-Lee said her mother was a nurse and her father a farmer.
After asking what her dad farmed, Elizabeth nodded and kept moving through the crowd.
“I was blown away that she stopped to speak to me,” said Maxwell-Lee, 48.
The encounter fuelled an interest in Britain’s Royal Family.
Maxwell-Lee, who lives in Portage la Prairie, has amassed a collection of memorabilia, including tea cups and spoons.
One of her prized possessions is a signed letter received from Richenda Elton, one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting, in April.
Lady Elton thanked Maxwell-Lee for her letter offering congratulations on Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, a message of condolence over Philip’s death and her memories of meeting the Queen.
The monarch was “touched” by the sentiments, the letter stated.
Michele Coffin’s family had just moved from London, Ont., to an apartment in Winnipeg when a train stopped behind the building one evening in July 1970.
Curious residents soon gathered near the carriages, hoping to see Elizabeth, Philip and two of their four children — Prince Charles and Princess Anne — who accompanied the couple on the trip.
The crowd got that and more.
“They just came out and talked and laughed, and made everybody feel really special,” said Coffin, who was six, said of the Queen and Philip. “It was pretty spectacular.”
The Royals seemed at ease while the duke, whose arm was in a sling due to a polo injury suffered before the tour, made some banter about his misfortune.
The family had stopped for dinner, said Coffin, amid a six-day, province-wide visit to mark the 100th anniversary of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation.
After taking time to greet the adoring crowd, the Queen turned to go back in the train, but returned so Coffin’s mother, Arlene, could take a picture.
For Coffin, who now lives near Detroit, Mich., the moment is tied to special memories of her parents.
It brought a “realness” and a human side to the monarch and her family.
“I have so much respect for her as a woman and a mother. She’s been a tremendous role model in grace, dignity,” said Coffin.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.