Royal Visit of 1939
Many of our older residents probably still remember the date of June 2, 1939, the day King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Edmonton. The Royal Tour began in eastern Canada during the latter part of May and worked its way westward. It marked the first time that a ruling British monarch had visited Canada. During the days preceding the Royal Visit, many Edmontonians were busy decorating the streets with flags, bunting and banners in preparation for this great event.
The day of the Royal Visit brought many special trains, buses and motor cars, all loaded with adults and children. Prior to the Royal Visit, Edmonton City Council decided to rename Portage Avenue to Kingsway Avenue, since it was to be one of the main routes of the Royal Visit. They also thought it would befitting to honor the Royal Couple in this manner. Hundreds of wooden bleachers were built along Kingsway Avenue and all of them were filled to capacity, allowing everyone a good view of the upcoming Royal procession.
The afternoon of June 2 turned out to be a hot, clear day, ideally suited for such a memorable event. Earlier that day, the King and Queen had arrived from Jasper, Alberta and were greeted by James J. Rowlen, the Lieu-tenant Governor, William Aherhart, the Social Credit Premier of Alberta, and by John Fry, the Mayor of Edmonton. Shortly after, the cavalcade was formed. It included many Royal Canadian Mounted Police all decked out in their scarlet tunics. Also included were many brass bands and many other dignitaries besides the Lieutenant Governor, the Premier and the Mayor of Edmonton.
The Royal Procession started on 82 Avenue (Whyte Avenue) and wended its way down 109 Street, passing the Legislative Buildings and then making its way toward Kingsway Avenue where thousands of people awaited its arrival. Many people unable to find room in the stands took up positions near windows and on rooftops. Sitting in the bleachers, many of us thought the procession would never arrive, however after a long wait, it was sighted a few blocks away. There were many brass hands in attendance, all providing lively band music while the Royal Couple approached. Finally the long awaited open air convertible arrived carrying the King and Queen. The Royal Couple waved and smiled as they passed and were soundly cheered by everyone in attendance. It seemed only a minute for the procession to pass our bleachers. Shortly after, the huge crowds left the stands and Kingsway Avenue seemed to be a sea of people. It was assumed that about 250,000 people greeted the King and Queen in Edmonton that day.
After the Royal Tour was completed, the King and Queen were driven to the Macdonald Hotel where they were billeted. After a short afternoon rest, the Royal Couple and the many dignitaries attended a lavish dinner given in honor of their Majesties by William Aberhart, the Premier of Alberta - a dinner that was later described as being the most lavish of all dinners given for the Royal Couple during their entire Canadian tour.
Many of the visitors wanted a second look at the Royal Couple and gathered on Jasper Avenue near the Macdonald Hotel. This area was so crowded with people you could hardly move. It didn't matter which way you turned. You kept bumping into people from Elk Point. It seemed that half of Elk Point and district was in attendance. Later in the evening, the King and Queen made another appearance, this one from the hotel balcony, and again they were soundly cheered.
During the Royal Visit, all hotels and rooming houses were filled to capacity. Anyone with thoughts of staying over to the next day did so only if they were billeted in some private home. Some of us did manage to stay over to the following day and watched as the Royal Train left for Saskatoon and points east.
The many souvenir shops were all loaded with Royal Visit souvenirs and many people came home with a variety of keepsakes which included cups and saucers, flags, banners and other Royal Visit items. These souvenir shops did a land office business, bringing millions of dollars of business to the city.
To many of us, the Royal Visit of 1939 was one of the highlights of our lives. There have been many Royal Tours since the one of June 2, 1939, but never has one so captivated so many hearts as the one we were so fortunate to attend in 1939.