CANORA, VEREGIN — On Oct. 19, 1987, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Phillip, visited Canora, Veregin and Kamsack. Curtis Pollock of the Canora Courier was one of the reporters covering the event. This article comes from a 1987 Royal Visit Souvenir Edition printed in the Canora Courier, Kamsack Times, Norquay North Star and Preeceville Progress.
The layout of the National Doukhobor Heritage Village at Veregin ensured excellent opportunities for viewing Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip or getting a snapshot or two, for those who were able to withstand the wintry northwest wind of the day for the duration of the wait.
For some, taking no chances at missing the front-row "seats," that wait was as long as 2 1/2 or even three hours, before the arrival of the royal party at the site somewhat after 2 p.m. In the end, this wait proved to be largely unnecessary, as the crowds were much smaller than had been anticipated by most of those who ventured out that morning against the bitterly cold wind, and all who turned out were able to get a close-at-hand view; however, few who braved the elements and were still in place when the royal party arrived seem to have minded the long, cold wait, as a carnival atmosphere had pervaded the small but enthusiastic crowd.
Annette Sunduk of Hyas, an enthusiastic royalty buff, said that there was "so much excitement" amongst the crowd that the cold was hardly noticed. She and those of her party were among the earliest to arrive at the site (theirs was the third car in the parking lot, she said), after a morning of excited preparations.
"As I got ready, wildness hit me; I just felt like the Queen was coming to my place for dinner," she said. Describing the wait at Veregin and the buildup of the crowd, she said, "Everybody was so joyful, and there were more people coming all the time, all joking around and laughing – it was just like going to Expo last year!"
The wait didn't seem long at all, she said. "Those 2 1/2 hours went by so fast we didn't even know it. Ordinarily, if you had to stand in one place for that long it would be hard, especially (when) so cold, but that morning we didn't even notice it."
As for the Queen, "she was beautiful, just beautiful," Sunduk said.
"All Just Dumbfounded"
Sunduk and the others of her party were among a number of people from the farms and communities to the north of those towns being visited by the Queen who came to Verigin to catch a glimpse of her there.
Another was Donna Toffan of Norquay, who came with her mother, Patricia Chernoff, and Myrtle Danielson and Sandra Nahachewsky, all of Pelly.
"We weren't going to come; it was so cold out and we thought there'd be lots and lots of people and we'd hardly even get close to her," Toffan said. "I was pretty blase (about going to see the Queen) before we went," Toffan admitted, but said that the decision to make the trip was well worth it in the end. They not only got close to Her Majesty, they were actually addressed by her!
When asked what the Queen of England and the British Commonwealth said to four women from east-central Saskatchewan on a cold October morning, Toffan laughed and said, "I don't even know – something about the weather, I think! I was in this state of shock when I realized she had spoken to us! I didn't even expect to be that close to her, let alone get spoken to by her!"
"Best thing that ever happened to me"
"It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life! It was just incredible to have Her Majesty right there, and yet to have her speak to us ...!" said Toffan, who expressed her later disappointment at not being able to respond better at that unexpected moment.
"I didn't know if I should curtsy or what," she said, saying that she was as if frozen and was unable to move or even speak had she tried. "I'm just mad that I didn't say something. If we were thinking, it's like she was waiting for us to shake her hand or something."
Her friend, Sandra Nahachewsky, had much the same reaction, but could remember Her Majesty's words which were, indeed, about the weather as Toffan had thought. "Oh my dear, you're getting a bit of snow," said Her Majesty to the four women, Nahachewsky recalled. And how did she respond? "I just nodded. I couldn't talk!"
She, too, said that they had almost not gone to Verigin, thinking they wouldn't get close anyway, but was also very glad they had made !he trip. Her two daughters, Desiree, 12, and Deanna, nine, had attended with the students of Pelly School, and "the kids are really still talking about it."
Queen Elizabeth shook the hand of one of them while Prince Philip talked to both, asking their names and where they are from. When told, he asked, "Where's Pelly?"
Time went by quickly during wait
And, like Sunduk, Toffan said that the time passed quickly as they waited for the arrival of the royal party. "Time went fast, there was so much to see, with the security and media people all setting up, and the television cameras and crews preparing."
Others from Norquay and district were also fortunate enough to get to greet the Queen or to shake her hand, while affable Prince Philip talked to a number of people in the crowd as the group passed from where the royal cavalcade had stopped to the heritage village.
Luck seemed to run in family circles. Just as sisters Desiree and Deanna Nahachewsky, although not standing together at all, were both spoken to by Her Majesty, so were cousins Kent Abbott and Clorissa Abbott, both of the Norquay district.
"What's your name?" the Queen asked 10-year-old Clorissa, daughter of Bobby and Sophie Abbott, and shook her hand. Asked if the girl was excited, her mother replied, "Who wouldn't be?"
Thrill of a lifetime
Kent Abbott, the son of Lenny and Elaine Abbott, was also spoken to by Her Majesty, according to Mrs. Stewart Mutch of Norquay, who was amongst the crowd. Although she did not get to speak to anyone of the royal party, she got "quite a thrill" of a different sort when she was interviewed by Terry Harris of Yorkton's radio station, GX94.
Having since heard herself on the broadcast "a couple of times," she laughed when asked how the interview had gone. It being her first experience of this nature, she said that she was quite taken aback when first asked a question by the announcer.
The question was: "What do you think of the monarchy?" or something like that, Mrs. Mutch said, and her reply was to the effect that "we need something nowadays" to look up to, an institution such as the monarchy that is above the political level and is not subject to the vagaries of everyday life.
Mutch said that, after the interview was over, she thought of numerous things she wishes she'd said. She admitted that, since that experience, when she sees a politician or someone else being grilled or questioned on television, she sympathizes a little more readily. "It makes you look at it differently," she said.
"Veregin was excellent, just excellent," for viewing the Queen and Prince Philip, she said, adding that "it was wonderful to have them."
"It was a very quiet crowd; of course the school children were cheering and quite boisterous, but the other people were very quiet. I think it was a sense of awe. We were all there, awaiting their arrival, and then somebody said, 'There she is!' and we could see her coming toward us; we were awed."
"Now, I believe this will give one a greater sense of the monarchy. When you sing God Save The Queen, it means more to you after you've seen her," said Mrs. Mutch.
"We'll be buzzing for a long time," she said, and when told that a special issue of this newspaper was being prepared featuring photographs and memories of the royal visit, she was delighted. "We can relive the whole day again – it all comes back to you."
Good looks not possible at Canora
Another group from Hyas and Norquay comprised of Randy and Bev Bellows and family members including their children, Shannon and Geoffrey, his mother, Eunice, and sister, Cheryl, and her mother, Phyllis Knutson, and sister, Tracy Knutson, all tried first at Canora to get "a royal look."
"But, it was hopeless to try to see her there," he said, especially if trying to obtain photographs as were some of them. The crowd was sizeable there, he said, and they had to stand "more than 50 yards back" where it was, naturally, hard to get a good look.
"In Canora we didn't know where to stand; nobody seemed to know," he said, indicating that there were better spots in which they could have positioned themselves if they had known where she would get out and where she would walk.
After the arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip there, and failing to obtain a good enough look (some of the party had not seen the Queen at all, due to the crowd), they went on to Veregin. There, not only was the crowd much smaller in an area much larger and more open, "it seemed like the people were all shorter too," he quipped. Arriving not that much before the royal party, they were nonetheless able to get the close-at-hand view they had been hoping for.
The wind made it bitterly cold there, however, and he noticed that almost immediately after Her Majesty and the royal retinue had passed by the crowd and had entered the prayer house, many of those who had been standing or sitting out in the cold could take it no longer, and headed for their vehicles.
"We enjoyed it very much," Bellows said, saying that it is unlikely that he will ever get another such opportunity to see the Queen who has reigned for most of his life, especially not so close and so close to home.
Acknowledging that some question the value of the monarchy, and "the pros and cons of bringing her here," he said that it gave him a good and uplifting feeling to have been there, to have seen the Queen, and to have been at and part of a historic moment in local history.
Duke's sense of humour evident
While most people's eyes were on the Queen, affable Prince Philip talked to a number of people along the entrance walk-way, and his well-known sense of humor was evident in some of his comments. Seeing one man with a camera, and apparently having some difficulty with it, the Duke of Edinburgh asked, "What's the matter? Is it froze up?"
He asked another man where he was from, and upon being told "Preeceville," the Duke asked how many people live there. When the reply was made, he said, "Oh, so it's bigger than this place, anyway," referring to little Veregin.
In what had all happened too quickly, the royal party had passed by the line of admirers and had entered the Doukhobor prayer house where more official exchanges were conducted.
But, all who had braved the cold northwesterly wind which blew so freely through the village of Veregin that morning to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty and Prince Philip, to take a snapshot for the family photo album, perhaps even to greet the royal visitors, were surely rewarded for their wait with at least a good look.
It was what those admirers of the monarchy, from sparkling-eyed schoolchildren to old Doukhobor or Ukrainian men and women, had been waiting for in the cold, crisp air of that October morning – a chance to see the royal visitors who will doubtlessly not pass this way again.