When Princess Margaret's trip to Canada included a fake 'atomic battle'

Princess Margaret requested seeing something more interesting than a royal guard inspection when she came to Canada in 1958. She got what she wanted.

Visiting royal saw many things during her 1958 trip, including a memorable military demonstration

Princess Margaret visited the CNE in Toronto during her 1958 trip to Canada. (CBC/CBC Archives)

Princess Margaret's trip to Canada began as you might expect it would — with a meal that was fit for royalty.

Specifically, the princess was dining on lobster and salmon and drinking champagne as she flew across the Atlantic, ahead of her month-long visit in the summer of 1958.

"Soon after the takeoff, stewards prepared to serve the 27-year-old princess and her seven-member entourage with a champagne supper in the blue and grey luxury cabin," the Globe and Mail reported in a story looking ahead to her imminent arrival in Canada on July 12, 1958.

"Also on the menu was cold chicken, asparagus, caviar, smoked salmon, potted shrimps, lobster salad and raspberries."

Her lengthy trip would, in fact, be bookended by meals of lobster and salmon. And it would include many ceremonial events, including the slicing of a truly gigantic cake.

But it also included a more memorable demonstration at a military facility, which she had pushed for and likely never forgot.

'All too brief' a trip

Princess Margaret's 31-day stay in Canada began in British Columbia. (CBC Newsmagazine/CBC Archives)

The first two weeks the princess was spending in the country were key to her journey to Canada, as she had been invited to participate in B.C. centennial celebrations.

Seeing B.C. up close was an experience she had been looking forward to.

From what Princess Margaret told British Columbians, she'd heard good things about their home province.

"It conjured up so many visions in my mind, which had been brought to life in colour by all that I'd heard of your wonderful province from my father and mother, and later from my sister, the Queen," Margaret said when speaking to a crowd in Victoria on the third day of her visit.

In 1958, Princess Margaret talks about her joy of finally seeing British Columbia. 1:07

"I need hardly tell you, therefore, how eagerly I had looked forward to the day when I, too, might come here and see for myself some of the splendours of which I had only heard."

Name-checking her pending travels in B.C., "from the vast Peace River area to the 49th parallel, and from the Okanagan to the sea," the princess said she wished she could spend even more time than she had in Canada. 

"It will I know be all too brief."

Princess Margaret cuts a ceremonial cake in Nanaimo, B.C., on July 16, 1958. (Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

While in B.C., Margaret visited more than a dozen places and was given an island, which she later returned to the province.

Shakespeare and a trip to Niagara Falls

Princess Margaret pauses for a moment deep in a tunnel under Niagara Falls after she was shaken and dazed by the blast of photographers' flashbulbs on Aug 1, 1958. (Canadian Press)

Margaret headed east after her time in B.C., making stops in Calgary and at two national parks — Banff (which named a mountain after her) and Prince Albert — along the way.

Then it was on to Ontario, where she visited the big cities of Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa, but also some more touristy destinations in the southwestern part of the province — namely Niagara Falls and Stratford, to take in its theatre festival, which was then just a few years old.

Princess Margaret visited Stratford, Ont., during her 31-day visit to Canada in the summer of 1958. (CBC/CBC Archives)

While in Stratford, she saw Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale performed on the last night of July.

The Globe and Mail reported that she met with some of the performers after the show. Reporter Lotta Dempsey observed "one had a feeling the princess is not unfamiliar with the life backstage," based on her ease in speaking with the people involved with the production.

Margaret would also visit Montreal and Quebec City.

They wanted her to have a blast

Princess Margaret's month-long visit to Canada included a stop in Fredericton. (Gar Lunney/Library and Archives Canada)

Near the end of her trip, she was in the Maritimes.

And her itinerary included a visit to CFB Gagetown, where military members put on a memorable display.

"At Gagetown this morning, Princess Margaret's own request that the Canadian Army show her something better than an inspection of a royal guard came true when the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade Group staged a mock atomic battle," CBC Radio announcer Bill Herbert told listeners on Aug. 9, 1958.

During a 1958 visit to CFB Gagetown, Princess Margaret observes a simulated atomic blast. 1:34

According to CBC's reporting, the simulated atomic blast was "fired by our own artillery" and it was followed up by a simulated military response.

"Immediately the first wave of the 50-ton Centurion tanks start forward, lumbering over the rolling countryside and from their long-barrelled guns, they are firing their 20-pounders," a reporter told the CBC Radio audience.

"And as the first waves of tanks get underway, a second troop with infantrymen mounted lumber into position. The object of course is for these troops to occupy the area plastered by the atomic fire before the enemy does."

According to the reporter, Margaret was seen occasionally flinching in her seat as she watched the demonstration.

The Globe and Mail reported that she had signalled her interest in seeing such a demonstration only 20 hours before it was staged.

Lobster and salmon again?

Halifax was the last place Princess Margaret visited during her 1958 trip to Canada. (Gar Lunney/Library and Archives Canada)

Princess Margaret's last meal of her Canadian trip featured lobster and salmon, just the meal she and her people devoured en route from Britain.

A Nova Scotia chef talks about a meal he prepared for Princess Margaret. 3:24

Chef Emile Bezan talked to CBC Radio about the meal that featured Lobster Newberg Royale.

"It means we cook the whole lobster and then we cut it [into] about half-inch cubes," Bezan told reporter Bob Cadman.

"Then we make them again with the butter, cream, wine — so that's what they call a royale."

He admitted it was a lot of work to prepare a special meal for a member of the Royal Family.

"It's a lot of responsibility," Bezan said, noting he had to make every minute count.