Coronation Park, c,1950. Coronation Crescent on the lower right of the photo by the bridge. (Red Deer Archives)

Coronation Park, c,1950. Coronation Crescent on the lower right of the photo by the bridge. (Red Deer Archives)

DAWE: Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee

On Tuesday, June 2, 1953, 70 years ago, Queen Elizabeth II was formally crowned Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) – the seven independent realms of the Commonwealth at the time of the Coronation.

As had been the custom for many kings and queens before her, the Queen’s coronation ceremony took place at Westminster Abbey in London, England.

Elizabeth had already become Queen on February 6, 1952, on the passing of her father, King George VI. The official ceremony was delayed by more than a year, both because of the tradition of delaying such festive occasions out of respect for the late monarch and because of the massive amount of planning and work necessary to organize such an important event as a coronation.

There was a potential glitch to the timing of the Coronation when the Queen’s grandmother, Queen Mary, passed away on March 24, 1953. However, Queen Mary explicitly put into her will that her passing should not affect the planning of the Coronation and that the event should not be delayed.

The first meeting of the Coronation Commission took place in April 1952, and was chaired by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the new monarch. In accordance with convention, the Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshall, was given overall responsibility for the event, but many physical preparations, including those connected with the route of the royal procession, fell to David Eccles, the British Minister of Works. Eccles quipped that the “Earl Marshall is the producer- I am the stage manager” for the big event.

Surprisingly, Canada was somewhat removed from the actual planning of the Coronation. That was because of the view, like that of several other realms of the Commonwealth that the “Coronation ceremony was a religious rite unique to Great Britain”. In the words of Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, “we are happy to attend and witness the Coronation of the Sovereign of the U.K., but we are not direct participants in that function”.

If Canada was not directly involved in the staging of the Coronation, there was a huge amount of celebration of the event organized across the nation. The day was declared a national holiday, and special celebrations were held on Parliament Hill. The Queen’s Coronation speech was broadcast to the assembled crowds.

One key element was that the Coronation was the first (and so far only coronation) to be fully televised. Film of the events in London was transported by Air Force jets to Canada. Since the American media used slower turbo prop planes to transport their footage, CBC TV was the first network in the Americas to broadcast the films.

As there was no local television station in Red Deer yet, there was no TV broadcast in Red Deer.

CBC Radio was able to broadcast the ceremonies live. The Red Deer Advocate reported that many people in the City got up at 2 a.m. so that they could listen in as it happened. Rebroadcasts were done for those who were up at more regular hours and/or wished to hear the broadcasts again.

There were significant celebrations organized in the City of Red Deer. A full, day-long program was set for June 2. Unfortunately, the day was marked by very heavy rains. Consequently, all the events were moved indoors to the brand new Red Deer Arena.

Nevertheless, more than 2,000 people turned out to watch the ceremonies. There were parades by the military, R.C.M.P., Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The Girl Guides were also given the special honour of presenting their colours to Canon G.W. Lang, the rector at St. Luke’s Anglican Church. There were songs by local school choirs and the Red Deer Choral Society. There was a lengthy address by Colonel Douglas Harkness, a former teacher in Red Deer. The rest of the day was marked by an indoor grandstand show, concerts, movie showings by Red Deer Film Society and fireworks after dark.

A tree-planting ceremony in Coronation Park on Ross Street was postponed due to the rain. On Sunday, June 14th, the Major H.L. Gaetz and Major Verner Sinclair Chapters of the I.O.D.E. planted the ceremonial trees. The local Girl Guides planted flowers in two adjoining flower beds.

Michael Dawe is a Red Deer Historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.