CBC Digital Archives

A fond farewell from the King and Queen

In the spring of 1939, a new King and his gracious Queen captured the hearts of Canadians. As war loomed overseas, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the country by train to meet their subjects and bolster the bonds of Empire. From small-town whistle stops to bustling cities, eager crowds cheered, sang and waited for hours, eager for a glimpse of royalty. CBC mobilized a crew of 100 to cover the tour, producing a rich radio archive of that royal spring.

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"The King and Queen are still up there on the bridge," says a CBC reporter. "One can't blame them, because it is one of most perfect evenings that we've had during this entire month when they have been our royal guests." Aboard the Canadian Navy destroyer Saguenay, the reporter has a privileged view as the royal couple sails away, marvelling at the masses of people watching from every possible vantage point in Halifax Harbour.

The royal couple is travelling back across the Atlantic on the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Britain. The other escort ships are those that ushered the King and Queen into Quebec City four weeks earlier: the Canadian Navy destroyers Saguenay and Skeena, and the Royal Navy cruisers Glasgow and Southampton. But before the royal couple can head for home, there's one more stop in the British colony of Newfoundland.
• The Empress of Britain was scheduled to sail at 7 p.m., but didn't leave for another half-hour. While they waited to see it go, the assembled crowds sang songs, including God Save the King, Auld Lang Syne, and Will Ye No' Come Back Again.

• Saguenay and Skeena accompanied the Empress of Britain out of Halifax Harbour before turning back.

• On the morning of June 16, the Empress of Britain reached Conception Bay in Newfoundland, which would not become a Canadian province for another 10 years.

• Accompanied by Sir Humphrey Walwyn, the colony's governor, the King and Queen took an hour-long drive to St. John's for speeches, a garden party, and other official events. The city's population of 15,000 had doubled with visitors flocking in to see the royal couple.

• Before they reboarded the Empress of Britain, the King and Queen made personal visits to the three cruisers escorting them. (HMS Berwick had joined them after they left Halifax.) The cruisers were anchored in the harbour, and boarding them was a challenge in rough seas.

• As the royal ship departed Newfoundland that night, residents built a huge bonfire on Signal Hill as a farewell.

• On the passage back to Britain, meals incorporated Canadian delicacies such as maple syrup, venison, bison, lobster and salmon. In the evenings, the entourage watched home movie footage shot during the tour by the King, a film hobbyist.

• On the journey, the King remarked to reporter R.K. Carnegie that he must have seen everyone in Canada. When Carnegie replied that the country's population was 11 million, the King said: "Well, we must have seen at least nine million."

• When the ship reached Britain, HMS Kempenfelt, with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on board, joined it at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. The princesses boarded the ship for lunch with their parents and the final docking at Southampton.

• Great crowds awaited the King and Queen as they arrived home, both in Southampton and in London.

• In a speech the following day at Guildhall, London's ceremonial town hall, the King spoke fondly of the North American tour he'd just completed. "It is my earnest hope that [the journey] may also be of some importance in its influence on the Empire's future destiny," he said. "We have been welcomed with a sincerity that stirred us profoundly, by millions of our fellow human beings, in Canada, in the United States of America, and in Newfoundland."

• King George VI never again set foot in Canada. He died of lung cancer in 1952, and his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, ascended the throne to become Queen Elizabeth. George VI's wife then became known as the Queen Mother.

• The Queen Mother made another nine official visits to Canada between 1954 and 1989. She died in 2002 at the age of 101.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special: Royal Tour
Broadcast Date: June 15, 1939
Duration: 12:40
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-209993

Last updated: November 6, 2014

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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