CBC Digital Archives

Presenting 'Chief Sitting Albino'

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 conical teepees, decorated horses and tom-tom drumbeats can mean only one thing: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth are on their way to an Indian village. At Calgary, local tribes - Blood, Piegans, Blackfoot, Stoney and Sarcees - have set up camp along the royal route. This CBC clip captures the tom-toms as the royal couple stops to admire the spectacle and greet the chiefs, who honour the King with the name "Chief Sitting Albino."
. From Toronto, the royal train travelled through northern Ontario. At a brief stop in White River, the King asked to meet the town's mayor. Since the town had none, they elected a local man, George Freethy, on the spot.
. The train then stopped at the twin cities of Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) and visited an Ojibway camp.

. The following day, May 24, was Victoria Day, the day Canada celebrates the birthday of the reigning monarch. It was also Empire Day. From the home of Manitoba's lieutenant governor in Winnipeg, the King made his longest radio speech ever in a special Empire broadcast to listeners around the globe.
. Listen to a clip from the royal tour's Winnipeg stop as the couple arrives at the provincial legislature.

. The train pushed on through the Prairies, receiving a raucous reception in Brandon, Man., that Mackenzie King would describe as "the finest scene on the entire trip" and which the Queen said was "the biggest thrill of the tour."
. Regina was next, followed by Moose Jaw, where local organizers put on softball tournaments, a swimming regatta, a parade and many other activities to occupy visitors as they awaited the royal train.

. The tribal camp in Calgary had been organized by "Indian agents" (government employees who acted as a liaison with local first nations) in consultation with chiefs from five southern Alberta tribes.
. Thirty teepees were erected for the camp, and 300 people were supplied with three days' provisions. A water pipe was also installed for cooking and washing.

. The principal of a local residential school objected to the idea that the display would consist solely of "a living cavalcade in war-paint and feathers." He believed native people should also be seen as they lived in the present: "Bring along the offspring of these mighty warriors, shorn of all "Indianism" but attired according to the groups they represent in our schools today: Scouts - Girl Guides - Cadets - Band - Sports - Choir - Music."

. After Calgary, a day and a half of rest awaited the royal tour in Banff. Everyone on the tour stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel in the Rockies. An experienced guide, Jim Brewster, showed the King and Queen the mountain scenery, and even took them home to meet his unsuspecting wife.
. The royal couple was so impressed by the sight of beavers at work that they collected the animals' discarded wood chips as souvenirs for their daughters.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special: Royal Tour
Broadcast Date: May 26, 1939
Duration: 13:21
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-131185

Last updated: September 16, 2013

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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