CBC Digital Archives

Melville's shining moment

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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Melville, Sask., might be small, but the reception it gave the King and Queen was anything but. The town's grain elevator was decked out, and people drove in from all over, swelling the town's population from 4,000 to 60,000 for the day. In this CBC-TV clip, town historian Marj Redenbach remembers the crowd's reaction as the royal train finally rolled in at 10 p.m.: "When the King and Queen appeared on the platform, that was just deafening." 
• Pallie Pascoe, a postal worker on the royal train, was impressed by the turnout in Melville. "The people had gathered in so close that even a pick-pocket had no option but to keep his hands in the air," he wrote in a book about his experiences.

• In his book And the People Cheered, Canadian Press reporter R.K. Carnegie said of the Melville stop: "Never throughout the tour did I see such unbridled enthusiasm as then."

• Another reporter wrote: "Until you've seen 40,000 farm folk gathered at one spot on the bald prairies singing Britannia Rules the Waves, you cannot know the triumph of this royal tour through Canada."

• The plan had originally called for the train to stay overnight in Melville for servicing. But the crowds were so large that railway officials ordered it to pull away for a few hours, sending it back once the people had left the site.

• From Jasper, the royal train had continued on to Edmonton. Portage Avenue was renamed the Kingsway in honour of the visit. Grandstands holding 70,000 people lined the street. At its far end, the King and Queen admired a display of aircraft and talked with some bush pilots.

• The whirlwind pace seemed to have caught up with the Queen by Edmonton. Mackenzie King noted in his diary that she had "lost a little of the constant smile which she wore at the beginning."

• Then it was on to Saskatoon, with a stop outside Unity, Sask., so the royal couple could stretch their legs.

• In Saskatoon, where more crowds awaited, hundreds of teenage girls dressed in red, white and blue and organized themselves into a Union Jack and sang God Save the King.

• Among the people the King and Queen met in Saskatoon was Thomas Swain, a veteran of the 1885 Riel Rebellion.
Medium: Television
Program: Canada Now
Broadcast Date: Feb. 28, 2001
Guest(s): Marj Redenbach
Reporter: Bill Waiser
Duration: 4:36

Last updated: November 4, 2014

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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