Niagara-on-the-Lake is mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last Thursday in Balmoral. The flags are flying at half mast at the town offices on Four Mile Creek Road in honour of the late monarch, who held the throne for 70 years.
In an official statement from the town issued Thursday, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said, “The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake offers its deepest condolences to the Royal Family, the people of the United Kingdom, and those that unite the Commonwealth during this time of grieving.”
“As the community mourns this devastating loss,” she continued, “the town invites residents to remember and reflect on Her Majesty’s profound global accomplishments, unquivering devotion to service, and the unprecedented stability she provided the British people.”
The statement says that Queen Elizabeth epitomized the essence of public service.
“As the first Capital of Upper Canada, The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is eternally grateful for its rich ties to the British Crown,” said Disero.
The statement makes reference to the 1973 Royal Tour, when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Niagara-on-the-Lake.
On June 28 that year the Royal Party was met at Fort George by Lord Mayor J. P. Froese and the Fort’s superintendent at 6:25 p.m. There, they watched a short historical presentation before departing to the Pillar and Post Inn for dinner.
Local resident Rick Meloen remembers that visit well. He was 19 years old that day, a student enrolled in Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute’s Hotel and Restaurant Administration program. He had been working at the Pillar and Post for several years.
“To my astonishment I was selected to be one of the servers (called waiters way back then) for the head table,” he writes in an email to The Local. “There was a ton of preparation to be done and I am sure the chefs and other management were feeling the stress. The staff had to undergo numerous health checks as well as background checks with the police forces involved.”
Staff were issued passes that allowed them to enter the property on the big day. They were to arrive early and could not leave the property.
“It was both tense and exciting,” Meloen continues. “The kitchen staff were particularly busy, with health officials hovering around. The kitchen was to be spotlessly clean and empty of everything but the essentials necessary for the banquet. The head servers were briefed on what to do and what not to do — like don’t speak to the royals unless they speak to you.”
Meloen remains thankful to this day that none of the royals took the initiative to do so, as he is certain he would not have replied properly.
When the royals entered the dining room, he remembers being struck immediately by how small Queen Elizabeth was.
“This sort of unnerved me and it took me a while to figure it out,” he says. “Then I realized that during my school years a portrait of the Queen was always high above the blackboard or above the door. So you were always looking up to the Queen. But when you see her in person, you would be looking down at her.”
He also felt that she was far more attractive in person than she was in photographs.
Meloen didn’t catch much of the conversation at the head table, but did notice that the Prince and Lord Mayor Froese were discussing peach farming.
“Back at Ryerson I gained a bit of notoriety with my classmates,” he recalls. ”And in the aftermath, business was brisk for the Pillar and Post since there were many who were interested in the visit and were eager to be in the same room where the Queen had been.”
Next, the entourage moved onto the Shaw Festival Theatre, where they took in a performance of You Never Can Tell and visited with the cast on stage following the show. At 11:10 p.m., they departed for St. Catharines, where they boarded a train.
Another NOTL resident has fond memories of the Queen going back to her Coronation on June 2, 1953.
Realtor Sis Weld was 21 years old and just about to get married when she set sail with a friend aboard the Franconia from Montreal to Liverpool. There, they boarded a boat train that brought them to Paddington, where her future mother-in-law was waiting.
Weld has lived a life fascinated by and in admiration of the royal family, instilled in her by her family.
“My father was the Colonel of the Governor General’s Horse Guards,” she tells The Local. “In the First World War, he was in the Artillery. We all loved the Royal Family. I was young enough to collect all the pictures of Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. I collected them all.”
Weld remembers listening to the Royal Wedding of Elizabeth and Phillip under the covers on Nov. 20, 1947. And when the future Queen visited as a princess in 1939, she hustled to the train tracks to leave a dime for the train to flatten.
“It was outside of Oakville, where I was brought up,” she says. “It was important to me to have that squashed down by the Queen and King’s train.”
Weld arrived in London just a day before the Coronation, and people were already taking up their positions along the parade route. She and her friend, Mary Anne Currie, tried to sleep in their hotel but it was next to impossible.
They got to their seats at the Mall by 6 a.m., directly across from Clarence House, where they could see the carriages being prepared for the parade. Rain was falling when they arrived, but the sun soon came shining through the clouds.
She recalls Canadians along the route cheering madly when the RCMP appeared, and the Queen of Tonga capturing everyone’s heart. She says the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret looked radiant in their carriages as they emerged from Clarence House.
The roar of the crowd grew louder as the top of the Golden Coach became visible near Queen Victoria’s statue. Weld was nearly breathless when Elizabeth passed by her, on her way to being crowned Queen.
“People were snapping pictures,” she remembers, “screaming with delight and waving their flags. It was extremely moving.”
She snapped a photo of her own, and proudly displays that in her Old Town living room, along with one of her daughter Wendy and her son-in-law David’s meeting with Prince Charles on one of his visits to Toronto.
Weld, by the way, also attended the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in February, 1977 with her daughter Leeanne. Though she never had the opportunity to meet the Queen, she was presented to the Queen Mother at Woodbine Racetrack in the 1970s.
Reflecting on Elizabeth’s 70-year reign, Weld says, “I think she was incredible. I was a great, great admirer. She never said a word or took a step out of line. She did it all so beautifully.”
Branch 124 of the Royal Canadian Legion will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 19 at the Queen Street Cenotaph. Branch president Al Howse says the service will be similar to their Remembrance Day ceremony. It will be open to anyone in the community that wishes to acknowledge the Queen’s 70 years of service to Canada.
In addition, the town invites residents to drop into the Virgil Town Hall to sign a book of condolences that has been placed in the lobby. The book will be sent to Buckingham Palace in time for the Queen’s funeral, to take place at Westminster Abbey on Sept.19.