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'Sheer beauty and sheer terror'

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.

They fought a revolution to break from Britain and the monarchy. But Americans have proven just as keen on the royal couple as Canadians have, packing Pennsylvania Avenue to see them in Washington, D.C. One big difference, however, is the ever-present military, welcoming the King and Queen with marine bands, gun salutes and battle plane flyovers. In a radio report for the CBC, a Toronto Star reporter describes the scene's "sheer beauty and sheer terror."

After taking in the cascading water and spraying mist of Niagara Falls, the King and Queen crossed the border for a side trip to the United States. The four-day visit takes them to Washington, D.C., and New York City for receptions, dinners, a stop at the 1939 World's Fair and a brief retreat at the estate of President Franklin Roosevelt. Then it's back to Canada for another four days, followed by the journey home. 
. The King and Queen reached the United States on the evening of June 8, 1939. The rail cars of the royal train were hitched to an American locomotive on the Canadian side of the Niagara River before travelling over the bridge to the United States.
. After a brief ceremony and a welcome by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, the train continued through the night to Washington, D.C.

. Accustomed to the RCMP officers who had travelled with them for security since landing in Canada, the King and Queen requested that they be able to keep the constables during their U.S. visit. But, mindful that Americans would perceive this as untrusting of their own police abilities, the King's secretary prevailed on him to accept the presence of American security men.

. One of the first events the King and Queen attended in Washington was a garden party at the British Embassy. About 1,300 people, including some of the most powerful and influential people in the country, attended the party.
. Listen to a clip in which two American commentators, H.R. Baukhage and Mary Mason, describe the party, its guests and their attire.

. The reasons behind the royal visit to the United States were much the same as in Canada: to build support for an impending war. "My husband invited them to Washington," wrote First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, "largely because, believing that we all might soon be engaged in a life and death struggle. he hoped that the visit would create a bond of friendship between the people of the two countries."

. After two days in Washington, the King and Queen were back on the royal train and heading for New York City. At Sandy Hook, N.J., they boarded a U.S. navy destroyer so they could see the city's skyline as they approached the harbour.
. According to the Globe and Mail, three million New Yorkers came out to see the royal couple as their motorcade made its way to the World's Fair.

. There was much speculation in the press over whether the royal couple would be served hotdogs, an American food unknown in England, while in the United States. On June 12, the Globe and Mail confirmed they had, indeed, eaten them at a picnic hosted by the President, with a headline reading: "Roosevelts' Red-Hots Relished by Royalty."
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special: Royal Tour
Broadcast Date: June 8, 1939
Reporter: Gregory Clark
Duration: 14:19
Photo Credit: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (NPx 72-18:3). Public Domain.
Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum

Last updated: September 16, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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