How Indigenous people welcomed the Queen to Canada in 1970

Centennial observances in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories drew Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne for a visit in 1970.

Indigenous leader urged Queen's representatives to 'recognize inequities of the past' in 1970

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Anne are shown with Thomasina Emoralik during a visit to an Inuit settlement near Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island in present-day Nunavut on July 6, 1970. (The Canadian Press)

On a 10-day tour of the Northwest Territories and the province of Manitoba for their centennial celebrations in July 1970, Queen Elizabeth heard a welcome speech in The Pas, Man., of a sort that she probably wasn't accustomed to.  

"It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Your Majesty to [our] ancestral homeland," began David Courchene of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood.

"It has been almost 100 years since our forefathers signed treaties with Her Majesty Queen Victoria," he went on. "Treaties which our forefathers held in high esteem.

"It is with sorrow that we note that the promises of peace and harmony, of social advancement and equality of opportunity, have not been realized by our people."

In her visits to Indigenous communities, Courchene said, he was sure the Queen would note that Indigenous people "have not, in effect, profited well by the prosperity of this great and wealthy nation." 

'Turbulence and change'

While welcoming the Queen to The Pas, Man., David Courchene of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood highlights Canada's failure to live up to what it promised to Indigenous people. 2:19

The CBC included part of Courchene's speech in an hour-long special about the tour, much of which stopped in communities in the Northwest Territories and what is now Nunavut.  

According to the Globe and Mail, Courchene had been planning to deliver the speech in nearby Norway House, the site where the original treaties had been signed.

But in a last-minute change of plans, Queen Elizabeth's son, Prince Charles — who was also on the tour, along with Prince Philip and Princess Anne — had gone to Norway House on his own, and the Queen went to The Pas.

"We are hopeful that Your Majesty's representatives will now ... recognize inequities of the past," and take steps to redress the treatment of Indigenous people in Manitoba, Courchene said.

The Queen, who had been listening while standing under an umbrella behind the Indigenous leader, accepted the speech graciously, saying she appreciated the words and "kind gifts."

"Ever since Europeans began to penetrate Central and Western Canada, it has been a story of turbulence and change," she said. She noted that such change had been felt around the world but was experienced in Canada "most acutely" by Indigenous people.

She said it was her hope that as Manitoba entered its second 100 years, all its people would play a role in the administration of the province and its future development.

Landing in the North

The Queen, her husband and two oldest children land in present-day Iqaluit for a visit to Canada's North in 1970. 1:48

The tour had started on July 5, 1970, when an Air Canada plane landed in what was then called Frobisher Bay. (The city has since been renamed Iqaluit; at the time, it was part of the Northwest Territories but is now the capital of the newer territory of Nunavut.)

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Roland Michener were there to meet the plane.

A beaver peeks out of its box at a July 14, 1970, ceremony in which the Hudson's Bay Company observed an old tradition. Two beavers were presented to Queen Elizabeth by Viscount Amory, governor of the company. Beavers are part of payment traditionally made by the company when a ruling monarch visits the Canadian West. (The Canadian Press)

"In moments it became clear that this would be a royal tour with a difference," said the CBC's Lloyd Robertson, who hosted a special that aired on CBC on the last day of the tour on July 15, 1970. "Since the crowds were naturally smaller, formality began to ease."

The Queen was seen next to then-Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien, responding to what Robertson described as the "easy charm and curiosity" of the crowds, which appeared to be composed of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

In what Robertson said was "her first official act on Arctic soil," Elizabeth turned the sod for a new Anglican cathedral in Frobisher Bay, now Iqaluit. 

'Disappointment' because of weather

The Queen and her family talk with the people of Inuvik and visit a fur producer in Tuktoyaktuk. 3:39

Larger crowds turned out in Inuvik.

But the people who had assembled to see the Queen were quiet as she made her way along a line of them, stopping occasionally to chat.

"There was little cheering ... because [Inuit] would never dream of cheering someone they asked God to bless every Sunday," said the Globe and Mail, paraphrasing a non-Indigenous resident of Inuvik.  

The whole Royal Family, clad in custom Inuit parkas, then climbed into an RCMP Twin Otter aircraft for the 120-kilometre trip to Tuktoyaktuk.

There, a small fur factory was opened for the quartet to inspect. But another plan for the visit had to be scratched because of weather. 

Tree-shaded Broadway in Winnipeg was lined 20 deep with cheering crowds on July 15, 1970, as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip drove in an open carriage escorted by members of the RCMP Musical Ride to the legislature building for Manitoba Centennial Day Ceremonies. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

"Outside, a disappointment," said Robertson. "The royal watchers did not get so much as a glimpse of the famed midnight sun due to the heavy overcast."

Disappointment met the 70-member news corps in Tuktoyaktuk, too, when their plane was grounded "due to mechanical failure," according to Robertson. They were left unable to file stories, which were usually dispatched daily by fighter jet to Toronto or Winnipeg. And they had to spend the night "on the floor of the school gymnasium" waiting for a replacement.

Back in Inuvik 20 hours later, the corps rejoined the tour. The Royal Family was "enjoying a display of Arctic games," said Robertson, and the crowd cheered after watching an athletic stunt that involved kicking a target suspended about two metres in the air.      

Marking Manitoba's centennial

The Royal Family watches a dancing demonstration in Winnipeg and the Queen gives a speech entirely in French. 2:28

The Royal Family spent the second-last day of the tour, July 14, in Manitoba, and it was "probably the fastest-paced day of all," said CBC commentator Craig Oliver.

According to reporting by CBC, the family was shown around a Hutterite colony that day, too, and they were serenaded by community members.

Oliver said the rain that had "plagued" them for the previous week let up when the Queen visited the French-speaking community of St. Pierre-Jolys.

"The Queen made her first speech entirely in the French language," noted Oliver.

While Charles and Anne had an engagement at the University of Manitoba, the sky opened up again when the Queen and Prince Philip went to a park outside Beausejour, said Oliver.

He recalled the "driving rain" that had accompanied Philip's 1967 trip to open the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg.

"So Philip must be beginning to wonder if rain will show up somewhere in the Manitoba centennial symbol," said Oliver.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau holds his hands over his ears and others wave as the Queen and Prince Philip's Air Canada jet shrills loudly and leaves the tarmac at Winnipeg airport for the United Kingdom on July 15, 1970. Prince Charles and Princess Anne are seen at right. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)