The royal couple was in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the official opening of the new Shaw Festival Theatre in June of 1973, a much-celebrated visit, he recalls.
The Pillar and Post restaurant, then owned by John Drope, was hosting a banquet in honour of the Queen and Prince. At 19, Meloen, a Ryerson Polytechnic student in the hospitality program, was working at the Pillar and Post at the time, and was selected to be one of the waiters at the head table.
“This was an exciting time for the staff, and extensive preparations were undertaken. A menu had to be selected and approved, and all the staff working that day had to have security checks and health exams. I’m pretty sure the RCMP still has my fingerprints on file somewhere.”
However this was in 1973, and very unlike what security would be today for visiting dignitaries, he says.
“The day finally arrived and the royal entourage took over the premises.”
They had two footmen, or possibly pages, among other staff, accompanying the royals. “They gave the waiters for the head table quick instructions on manners when dealing with the royals. For instance, we were not to talk to them unless spoken to first. Thankfully this didn’t happen, because I probably would have stuttered and said something stupid.”
Prince Philip sat beside Lord Mayor Jake Froese, says Meloen.
“In all the hubbub I did manage to overhear some snippets of their conversation. They were discussing peach farming, and the Prince seemed genuinely interested.”
Other than that, Meloen remembers the time flying by in a blur, his mind focused on not doing anything to mess up. The royal couple was ushered out to the unveiling event, and a play at the Shaw.
“It had been an exhausting day, especially for the kitchen staff preparing for the banquet of 200 guests, but a memorable one.”
For the Pillar and Post, it meant a boost in business for years to come. Many were interested to visit and dine in the place where the royals had been. I can’t confirm it, but I would like to surmise that because of the security checks, many dignitaries were choosing the Pillar for their dinner or lunch events.”
Although it was the Queen and the Prince who came to town, it is mostly referred to and remembered as the Queen’s visit, says Meloen. “Prince Philip, ever supportive and dignified, remains in the shadow. And I am left with fond memories of the day the royals came to town.”
Although Meloen’s career ended up to be in the town’s roads department, where he retired as superintendent, he has had a life-long interest and volunteer involvement in celebrating the history of the town, possibly encouraged by a brief encounter as a young man with one of the most celebrated couples in the history of Canada.