Recalling a secret 1970 garden party with the Queen and Royal Family in a Manitoba farmyard
'It was surreal, of course, but ... everybody was just so at ease,' says Manitoban whose family hosted royals
At first glance, it looked like any other 1970s-era backyard gathering — people sitting back on webbed lawn chairs, sipping drinks, enjoying a slice of coffee cake and taking in the heat of Manitoba in July.
But that would have been a royal oversight.
Sitting in those thrones of summer 52 years ago, on the lawn of a Prairie potato farmer, was England's most prestigious family.
And as Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this year, at age 96, memories and photos of that rare visit are being resurfaced by a retired Manitoba teacher whose family played host.
"It was surreal, of course, but it was so natural. Everybody was just so at ease," Brian Bailey recalled on Friday.
In July 1970, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were on a Canadian tour by train along with their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, that stopped in the southwestern Manitoba city of Brandon. The next stop was to be a little more off the radar, out of the public eye.
"They were looking for a place fairly close to Brandon where they could … find out what it was like on a Manitoba farm, and most importantly, to have some time for relaxation," Bailey said.
About 40 kilometres to the east, off the main line of the tracks south of Carberry, was a siding where the royal coach could pull off. Another kilometre and a half away, down some country roads, was the Bailey potato farm.
That Sunday evening, and for a few hours the following Monday, the Royal Family rode horses around the property, talked farming, sat back in the aluminum chairs and chatted like they were neighbours, Bailey said.
"I just roamed around and took pictures of everybody as they were communicating. They made you feel so comfortable," he said.
The only other person with a camera was the Queen, whose Nikon can be seen slung over her shoulder in some of Bailey's photos.
"She was taking pictures just as much as I was of us, of the countryside and the house," he said. "She was like a tourist."
The seeds of the visit had been planted about a month earlier. Officials with the province and Royal Family went over the property to make sure everything was in place. They even had to OK the cake Bailey's mom, Nora, wanted to serve.
Bailey believes his family was chosen because everything "just fell into place." Aside from being located near Brandon, but a bit off the beaten track, his dad, T. Roy Bailey, was well known.
He had been named Mr. Manitoba Farmer in 1967, and through that had met a man who, in 1970, was part of the royal tour's Manitoba organization team.
The royals went for a casual horseback ride on Sunday evening, on horses brought over from the RCMP musical ride, which happened to be in Brandon at the time for Manitoba's centennial. Along with the horses came a few Mounties for security detail.
The royals, who returned to the train coach for the night, came back the next day for a more formal ride and tour around the property, checking out the crops, Brian Bailey said.
"And from there they ended up going into the backyard of our farm home and we had a garden party — just our immediate family and the Royal Family. It was pretty special."
Queen Elizabeth, now celebrating 70 years on the throne, was just 18 years into her reign at the time. She is the first British monarch to reach the Platinum Jubilee milestone.
When Bailey was introduced to the Queen, he realized the royals had been well informed about his family already. That likely helped the feeling of ease that surrounded the experience, he said.
"She said, 'And you're the school teacher?' And I said yes. Her next question was, 'Well, what are you doing for the summer?'" Bailey said.
"It was just those kinds of questions that you would talk about if anybody came to your house just for a coffee party. It was really quite something — such a normal, normal soul."
While Elizabeth spent a great deal of time chatting with Nora about family, Philip talked farming with Bailey's brothers and dad.
As the afternoon rolled on and distant clouds rolled in, it was time for the royals to leave.
"Prince Philip and the Queen jumped in a car — and it wasn't a limousine or anything, it was just … an old Chevy," Bailey said.
Charles, 21 at the time, and Anne, 19, had a playful argument about who would drive the second vehicle, Bailey said, adding "I think Princess Anne won that one."
"They got back on the train and my mom and dad were there to say goodbye to them. And then rain came down in buckets, so it was well planned."
Reunited in 2010
Bailey's dad reunited with Elizabeth and Philip 40 years later, during a royal visit to Winnipeg.
When he heard the couple would be back in Manitoba, Bailey sent emails to the premier until the province's chief of protocol called back, saying "this is something we need to follow up with."
Nora had passed away a number of years earlier, but T. Roy Bailey had a special seat set for him as the Queen unveiled a statue of herself at the Manitoba Legislature grounds.
The premier had a few quick words, "and as soon as he finished speaking, [the Queen] made a beeline" to T. Roy, Bailey said.
"The first question [Philip] asked was, 'How are the crops, Roy?'" Bailey said.
"They all had a quick little visit and [Dad] was tickled pink. He was almost 95 years old at the time and he said to me afterwards, 'There isn't much more for me to do, is there?'"
T. Roy passed away a few months later. Philip died in April 2021.
Through it all, Bailey has followed the royals like they were relatives.
"You feel like you're part of the family — you really do. There's a certain closeness that we have had all these years," he said.
Bailey will always hold dear the memories of those visits. But in addition to that, set in a special place, are a pair of modest but tangible reminders — the serviette and teacup Elizabeth used at that garden party 52 years ago.
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson