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The royal visit that marked B.C.'s 1971 centennial celebration

There was a lot of interest in 20-year-old Princess Anne as she and her parents took in the splendours of British Columbia in 1971.

Haida dancers, lumberjack contest and giant birthday cake on itinerary

Princess Anne mingles with a crowd of about 1,000 in attendance on May 4, 1971, as she officially opens the new Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island's west coast. (Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

Visiting Canada for centennial celebrations was becoming almost routine for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip by 1971.

They had come in 1964 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Charlottetown conference, for Canada's centennial celebrations in Ottawa in 1967 and for Manitoba's 100th in 1970.

And then they came to British Columbia in 1971, bringing their daughter, Princess Anne, with them. 

"Of particular interest to tour watchers this year will be the performance of Princess Anne, now 20," the Globe and Mail reported on May 3, 1971, the day of their arrival.

On the previous visit, Anne's elder brother, Charles, had been part of the tour and Anne had been "willing to let Prince Charles have most of the limelight." This time, the limelight would be all hers.

Crossing the strait

A royal crossing to Vancouver Island

51 years ago
2:28
The royal visitors, along with the prime minister, the governor general and their wives, take the yacht Britannia across the Strait of Georgia. 2:28

There was a lot of the West Coast province to cover, and that's why the royal yacht Britannia had made the trip over and arrived in Esquimalt, B.C., on April 21, according to the Globe and Mail.

"The voyage across the Strait of Georgia was a leisurely affair," said CBC reporter Mike McCourt, as the camera captured the Union Jack flapping in the wind while the Queen, her husband and daughter admired the scenery on May 3. "And they had a perfect day for it."

An American submarine "happened by" on the surface as the yacht passed, and the vessel turned out a guard of honour for the family, said McCourt.

Along for the journey

Queen Elizabeth, left, B.C. lieutenant governor Jack Nicholson, Margaret Trudeau and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau chat on route to Victoria on May 3, 1971. (Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his new wife, Margaret, who was originally from B.C., had also taken the six-hour trip from Vancouver to Victoria. B.C.'s lieutenant governor Jack Nicholson, Gov. Gen. Roland Michener, and their wives rounded out the group, according to the Globe and Mail.

According to a report in the Toronto Star, 25,000 people had "swarmed to the docks" as the yacht glided in.

"This morning, the start of the royal tour script," McCourt said as the camera captured pink blossoms and "thousands of schoolchildren" at the provincial legislature.

"As a veteran tour reporter, I'd say this has to be the most minutely planned royal mainstreeting of my experience," wrote the Star's Lotta Dempsey in a pre-visit column.

"Mr. Premier, you have made us very welcome at the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the entry of this province into the Confederation of Canada," the Queen said in a speech as B.C. Premier W.A.C. Bennett looked on.

Island time 

'Logger sports' in Ladysmith

51 years ago
2:27
The Queen and Prince Philip take in a demonstration of lumberjack skills while Princess Anne dedicates Pacific Rim National Park. 2:27

The next day in Ladysmith, the Queen and her husband were treated to "typical British Columbia entertainment," said reporter Bill Dobson.

That included "logger sports" like pole climbing and axe-throwing.

"Local woodsmen raced the clock to the top of an 85-foot-tall spar tree, then made the breathtaking descent," said the reporter.

A further highlight was men in lumberjack garb hurling axes at targets hewn from trees, which seemed to especially please Prince Philip.

Then it was on to Nanaimo, where the royal couple watched a preview of the city's annual "bathtub derby."

Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip relax as they sail to Victoria accompanied out of Vancouver harbour by numerous small craft. (Bill Croke/Canadian Press)

"The royal visitors are approaching their busy schedule with obvious good humour," said Dobson.

Princess Anne, meanwhile, was travelling to the Island's west coast for a solo engagement to dedicate the new Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino. She was accompanied in the task by Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien.

Dobson said that on the way back to her helicopter, Anne stopped to talk to a group of young people"who described themselves as "squatters" who lived on the beach.

"I could think of worse places to live," the princess was said to have replied.

'Tummy troubles'

May Day in New Westminister

51 years ago
2:42
The Queen and Prince Philip take in May Day celebrations and observe an anvil salute during their visit to the B.C. city. 2:42

Two days later, the tightly planned visit had to make changes on the fly in light of what McCourt described as "tummy troubles" for Princess Anne.

The Globe and Mail, which described Anne as suffering an "upset stomach," said she had been attended by the ship's surgeon aboard the Britannia and spent the day resting there.

But the day continued "without a flaw," McCourt said, as the Queen and Prince Philip attended a citizenship ceremony together in downtown Vancouver before "splitting off" so that Philip could perform some of the duties planned for Anne at the University of British Columbia. 

Explosive salute

Allison Peele, captain of the Hyack Anvil Battery, explains to Queen Elizabeth how the ancient method of setting off charges on anvils was used to greet her on May 7, 1971, when she visited New Westminster, B.C. The customary 21-shot royal salute was cut short at 15 charges to save wear on the ears. (Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

Then it was off to New Westminster, where the Queen was met with a 21-gun salute of a different kind by the Hyack Anvil Battery.

"The Hyack boys don't use guns but, in fact, anvils," said McCourt, as the camera showed an explosive charge being placed under an anvil, which jumped when it ignited.

But a plan that was to have Anne dedicate the cornerstone of a new CBC building in Vancouver had to be cancelled because of her illness, according to the Globe and Mail.

The CBC camera showed bunting and bleachers that had been set up for the event being taken down. 

"And the plaque had to wait for whatever fate was decided for it by corporation management," said McCourt.

A cake to remember

A royal visit to Prince Rupert

51 years ago
2:14
Princess Anne slices a giant birthday cake for B.C.'s centennial. 2:14

Anne had recovered and was back in the spotlight again when the family travelled to Prince Rupert. On a five-kilometre ferry ride from the airport across the harbour into town, Anne rode in the wheelhouse as the royal standard flew on the flagpole.

McCourt, again reporting on the tour, noted the "inevitable motorcade" that took the family to the civic centre, where a large crowd and "the ever-present Cubs and Brownies" looked on. 

It was Anne's task to slice an "immense" centennial cake adorned with 100 oversized birthday candles. 

According to the Toronto Star, her father coached her, telling her to "have a slash at it" with the designated ceremonial sword.

Ceremonies all around

Queen Elizabeth talks with Haida Indian tribe members at Sandspit, B.C., on May 11, 1971. (Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

Then it was on to the Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii, for a "ceremonial tribal dance."

"The Queen was obviously intrigued by the dancing, which is not performed for just anyone," said McCourt.

Even as the Queen chatted with 85-year-old chief Billy Matthews, all eyes were on Anne, said McCourt.

"A great deal of attention centred around Princess Anne, who, as society editors are wont to say, looked radiant," said McCourt. 

Little girls can't quite get synchronized as they curtsy before Queen Elizabeth at New Westminster's annual May festival on May 7, 1971. (Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

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