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Mackenzie King welcomes Their Majesties

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.

"In coming from the old land to the new, you have not left one home, but come to another." As host to the royal couple, it's Prime Minister Mackenzie King's honour to extend an official welcome to Canada. His speech, captured by CBC at a luncheon in Quebec City, gives the King and Queen a brief history lesson and extols the country's "forests, prairies, and mountains" and its "thriving villages, towns and cities." 
. Mackenzie King was the first person to welcome the King and Queen as they stepped off the gangplank. This came after much wrangling with the King's secretary in London, who felt the honour should go to Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir, the King's representative in Canada.
. The Prime Minister also accompanied the King and Queen everywhere as they criss-crossed Canada, and had to fight very hard to join the royal party when it travelled to the United States.

. The King and Queen brought with them from England an entourage that included several lords and ladies-in-waiting, a doctor, a press liaison, two security staff, two personal attendants and numerous valets, dressers and maids.
. The entourage occupied the specially outfitted royal train for the duration of the tour, as did Mackenzie King and his staff, members of the planning committee, clerical and railway workers, the RCMP commissioner and four Mounties.

. The royal train was composed of 12 cars supplied by Canada's two railway companies, Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway. Every car was air-conditioned and had a telephone and a radio, and the train also carried a barbershop and a switchboard. The train was painted blue and silver and bore the royal coat of arms.
. To hear the sounds of the royal train and a brief description, listen to the additional clip Sounds and sight of the royal train.

. Tour organizers worried that Quebec City might be less than welcoming to the English King and Queen. But, according to Daylight Upon Magic: The Royal Tour of Canada - 1939, by Tom MacDonnell, the crowds were enthusiastic. An assembly of children even sang "God Save the King" in French.
. Following Mackenzie King's speech, King George VI thanked him in a brief speech in English, then switched to French to pay tribute to the province of Quebec.

. The royal train departed Quebec City on the morning of May 18. It stopped briefly in Trois-Rivières, and continued on to Montreal.
. Mayor Camilien Houde greeted the royal couple and accompanied them by car on the royal route through the city. Later, as they stood on a balcony at City Hall overlooking thousands of cheering Montrealers, Houde turned to the King and said, "You know, Your Majesty, some of these cheers are for you also."
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special: Royal Tour
Broadcast Date: May 17, 1939
Guest(s): William Lyon Mackenzie King
Duration: 7:47
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-130495

Last updated: September 16, 2013

Page consulted on March 7, 2014

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