Calgarians remember Queen Elizabeth at 'the end of an era'

Calgarians reflect on Queen Elizabeth's life and legacy after the longest-reigning British monarch died Thursday.

Canada's head of state and longest-reigning British monarch died Thursday

Princess Elizabeth examines Calgary Mayor Don Mackay's cowboy hat at the Stampede Corral in 1951. (University of Calgary Archives and Special Collections)

When Val Fortney was invited to a meet-and-greet with Queen Elizabeth in 2005, perhaps no one had a harder time believing it than the Calgary-based journalist herself.

The monarch and Prince Phillip were on grand tours of Alberta and Saskatchewan — the provinces were marking centennials, and the royals extended the offer to media in Regina while Fortney was covering part of their visit.

"I couldn't believe it, quite frankly," Fortney said. "I was like, [the queen] does that?'"

Queen Elizabeth did, in fact, do that — and she even approached Fortney at the event.

"She was just lovely, and she kind of reminded me of my mom, who I'd just lost," Fortney said. "And I just kind of melted, and curtsied in pants. And she started to chat."

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It has been about 17 years since Fortney met Queen Elizabeth, and joked with her about the weather in Calgary.

She is now remembering the queen on the day of her death — Canada's head of state and the longest-reigning British monarch died peacefully on Thursday afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

"Oh, I just immediately started to cry," Fortney said.

"But I also thought: what a great queen. She did her job, right up till the end … so it was a mixture of gratitude and love and appreciation and deep sadness."

'The starting of a new reign'

Fortney wasn't the only Calgarian reflecting on Queen Elizabeth's life and legacy on Thursday.

Melanie Poulsom works at British Pantry, a grocery store that caters to expats living in Calgary, and said she felt profound sadness at news of the queen's death — the "loss of this icon."

"She's been the queen as long as I've been alive," Poulsom said. "She's done something incredible for her whole life, and it's just a big loss."

The store said in a statement that "the global community has lost a matriarch who is irreplaceable, and we are richer for her contribution to society, building over her decades of service."

Phyllis Paksi, who went to see the queen during a visit to Saskatchewan, called her dedication to service "unbelievable."

"It's very sad," Paksi said. "She'll be badly missed."

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Josh Traptow, the Alberta spokesperson for the Monarchist League of Canada, said that she visited Calgary six times — and the first time, in 1951, she was still a princess.

"This is the end of an era, the end of the second Elizabethan era, the starting of a new reign," Traptow said.

As a supporter of the British monarchy, Traptow said that for him, the queen represented the continuity of government, a steady hand, the separation of head of government and head of state.

On a personal level, Traptow says her devotion to a life of service is what strikes him.

"She was the eldest daughter of the second son of the king at the time … you know, she was never going to become queen," Traptow said.

"And here we are … 70 years later — a life well-lived, a life lived of grace, and a life that I think will be fondly remembered for generations to come."

Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, receive a gift from a chief and his wife during the Royal Winter Stampede in 1951. (The Associated Press)

Dave Bronconnier was Calgary's mayor during the queen's final visit in 2005, and he said she didn't hesitate to lean in and ask him questions about the city — nor neglect any of the veterans who lined up to meet her.

"[It was] a very memorable and touching experience," Bronconnier said.

"She's just an incredible leader that will be missed, and I don't know if we'll ever see another one like her."

'You're the bomb, lady'

Before the night Val Fortney met Queen Elizabeth ended, the journalist wound up with a souvenir.

"I don't know how, but [the palace photographer] wrangled up Queen Elizabeth … and he took our photo, but the flash didn't go off," Fortney said.

"I basically said, 'Your Majesty, could you just stay for one more second for this photo?' and she looked at me rather bemused, and that's when he snapped [it].

"So in the photo, I'm looking a little bit concerned because I was worried about [it] and she's kind of chuckling at me."

Calgary journalist Val Fortney met Queen Elizabeth during her tour of Alberta in 2005 for the province's centenary. (Submitted by Val Fortney)

Fortney thinks news of the queen's death is likely to become one of those moments for people — the kind where you remember where you were.

But Fortney also gets to remember a bit about what she was like.

"She was warm. She was a pro. She knew what she was doing," Fortney said.

"And I felt so lucky to have felt that warmth and genuineness from her in that moment. I just went, 'Wow. You're the bomb, lady.'"


Hannah Kost

Online Journalist/Associate Producer

Hannah Kost is an award-winning journalist from Calgary, Alta. She joined the CBC in 2019 as an online journalist and associate producer.

With files from Colleen Underwood


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