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When sovereignty met the monarchy: The Queen's 1964 visit to Quebec

Queen Elizabeth visited Canada in 1964 to celebrate the first major step toward Confederation, but in Quebec some minds were on separation.

Police response to protesters became known as Truncheon Saturday

Queen Elizabeth addresses the Quebec National Assembly on Oct. 10, 1964. (The Associated Press)

The rumblings of discontent were already present before Queen Elizabeth even arrived in Canada for her visit in October 1964.

"We have nothing against the Queen personally," Pierre Bourgault, leader of a group that advocated for Quebec separation, told The Canadian Press five weeks before she was scheduled to arrive in Quebec City. 

"She is only an instrument in the hands of the guilty ones, Prime Minister Pearson and Premier Lesage."

Pearson had invited the Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, to visit Canada that year for the centennial of two 1864 pre-Confederation conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec City.

Those conferences set in motion the negotiations that would result in the founding of Canada.  

While in Charlottetown, the royal couple also attended a gala performance to mark the opening of the Charlottetown Centre. Performers included actor Lorne Greene, singer Anna Russell and dancers Don Gillies and Carlu Carter.

Mounties salute as the Queen greets a local dignitary in Charlottetown on Oct. 6, 1964. (CBC Archives)
  

Also on the Queen's to-do list for Quebec City was marking the 50th anniversary of the Royal 22nd Regiment, known more informally as the Van Doos.

'Club-swinging police'

Journalists Norman Depoe and Knowlton Nash discuss the events of Oct. 10, 1964. 2:02
 

And they were there as her car drove by in the royal procession — but they couldn't see much because their attention was elsewhere, said CBC reporter Norman Depoe in a year-end review.

"The troops lining the approaches had their back to her," said Depoe. "They were looking outward for any attempt by separatists to mar the occasion." 

Depoe had covered the visit for the CBC and was one of approximately 1,000 reporters and photographers present in Quebec City for the visit, according to the Globe and Mail. 

Police struggle with a demonstrator taken into custody on Oct. 10, 1964, just outside the Quebec National Assembly as Queen Elizabeth arrives. (The Canadian Press)

And mar it they did, added Depoe, but "only by shouting slogans and singing irreverent songs."

But it was the threat of "mob violence" and not the fact of it that police reacted to, chasing protesters and reporters alike.

"The only real violence came from the club-swinging police who ... broke up demonstrations only after the royal couple had gone by, when there could have been no possible danger to them," Depoe said as the camera showed two police officers rounding up a protester.

Oct. 10, 1964. became known in Quebec as Truncheon Saturday (or, in French, samedi de la matraque).  

"It was a royal visit that brought all the tensions and frustrations of Canada in 1964 into sharp focus," Depoe said.

The gift of a novelty car

An exhaust-belching "penguin car," a gift to the Queen and her husband, goes for a spin in front of a crowd of onlookers at the prime minister's residence. 0:58

Things were more relaxed in Ottawa two days later.

"After a Thanksgiving lunch of cold salmon and green salad at the prime minister's residence on Sussex Drive, Mr. Pearson escorted the Queen and the prince through the French doors to the back lawn," the Globe and Mail reported on Oct. 13, 1964.

A CBC camera captured the Queen smiling and laughing as she and Philip, along with several onlookers, viewed a curious tiny car-trailer combo before them.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip admire an amphibious 'penguin' car presented to them on Oct. 12, 1964, at Prime Minister Lester Pearson's residence. Maryon Pearson is beside the prince and External Affairs Minister Paul Martin Sr. is visible over the Queen's shoulders. (The Canadian Press)

The Globe and Mail described it as "a $1,000 two-seater amphibious craft that can travel at 40 miles an hour on land or four miles an hour afloat."

The car's designer, identified by the newspaper as John Smeaton, was seen climbing into the car and revving the exhaust-spewing engine before driving it in a circle while everyone looked on.

The car, called the Penguin, was a gift to the royal couple. Smeaton had first invited Philip to test drive it, but he declined even after Pearson gestured at the lawn and told him he could take it down the hill into the Ottawa River "and up the other side."    

"I like it," the newspaper quoted Philip as saying. "Thanks very much."

He liked it so much he asked for it to be taken aboard the royal yacht Britannia, which was accompanying them in Canada, so that he could use it on a future trip to the Galapagos Islands.

A special farewell

Well-wishers turn out to watch an official departure ceremony at Ottawa's Uplands airport. 2:16

The day after Thanksgiving, the royal couple departed Canada by air at Uplands air force base, and CBC Television aired a news special showing the pageantry of the official farewell ceremony.

Among those assembled inside a hangar decorated for the occasion were 1,000 schoolchildren and 400 invited guests. 

"The RCAF laid on a thousand of them yesterday to say goodbye to the Queen as she flew off to Britain at the end of her nine-day tour," the Globe and Mail reported.

Accompanied by Gov. Gen. Georges Vanier, the Queen walked on a red carpet lined by servicemen in uniform and photographers as a pipe band played. 

Prince Philip had departed before dawn that day, according to the Globe and Mail.

She shook hands and said a few words with Vanier and his wife, as well as the Pearsons, before ascending the stairs to the Air Canada aircraft and giving a final wave to the crowd.

"The 1964 royal tour was over and political Ottawa fell at once to discussing, privately as yet, if there could be possibly be another one before the problems of Confederation have been resolved one way or another," the Globe and Mail reported the following day. 

"A reporter remarked: the sound you hear is a national sigh of relief." 

Queen Elizabeth and Gov. Gen. Georges Vanier, are seen at the Citadel in Quebec City. (National Archives of Canada/C-056999/The Canadian Press)