Tuesday 22 May 2012

Pomp & Circumstance

The six-year-old boy held his father's hand as they walked down their Toronto street to the Danforth on the sunny May day.  The little boy watched his father open up a wooden step ladder and he climbed up the steps to to see above the crowd that had formed.  He observed the crowd:  everyone was dressed in their finest clothes, the women wearing dresses and gloves, the men in suits and fedoras.  Some held pairs of binoculars while many waved Union Jacks.  Some held brownie box cameras while a few held big fancy cameras and notepads.  The boy asked his dad why they had fancy cameras and he said that they were reporters for the Toronto Star.  The boy watched the policemen walk up and down the Danforth, a two lane street which would normally have lots of traffic but was empty today. 

The boy's father, a high school math teacher who also loved history, explained to him that the car they were waiting for would carry the King and the Queen of England.  King George VI had just been crowned two years before.  He was married to Queen Elizabeth.  They had two little girls, the princesses, who had stayed in England.  Although it was peacetime, England and Germany were not getting along and just in case they started a war, the King wanted to make sure he had Canada's help.  That's why he was making this trip.

The boy asked how the King and Queen had gotten to Canada and his father explained that they had sailed on a big ship called the Empress of Australia which had taken them across the Atlantic Ocean and down the St. Lawrence.  They had landed at Quebec City and then taken the royal train, complete with the royal insignia on its engine, through Quebec and into Ontario.  They had stopped in Ottawa at the Parliament Buildings for a visit.  At the east end of Toronto, they had disembarked from the train where a royal car was waiting to transport them through the streets of the city. 

The boy thought that it was taking a long time for the parade to start.  When would the King and Queen reach his street?  Finally, he heard the drone of engines.  A large 1939 Buick appeared with several policemen on motorcycles as escorts.  The boy climbed higher on the step ladder to get a better view, squinting in the sunlight.  It was a black convertible with white-wall tires and running boards along the side travelling at between 5 and 10 kilometres an hour.  What a beauty! thought the young lad, a car buff like his grandfather.  With its roof down, the boy could see the car's occupants perfectly.  A chauffeur drove the royal couple with a man in a tophat in the passenger seat (maybe that's the Prime Minister, thought the boy).  In the back sat the King and Queen, the former dressed in a black suit and the latter in a white dress, giving her signature wave. 

Once the royal car passed by, the crowd started to disperse.  The boy's dad folded up the step ladder and they started to head back down Wolverleigh Boulevard.  The boy asked where the King and Queen were going next and his dad said that they would stay overnight at the Royal York Hotel and then get back on the royal train to head across the Prairies on a whistlestop tour.  Later the boy's grandfather, who had been watching the parade from Pape Avenue, showed him a photograph that he had snapped of the royal car.  The boy would never forget the Royal Visit of 1939.  What a parade!

Note:  This post is dedicated to my dad, Norman Ross Tufts, who was the boy watching the parade.


Photo of royal car in parade in front of Toronto Star building on May 22, 1939, courtesy www.media.thestar.topscms.com.

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