Remembering Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Swan River Valley

Published on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 08:27

Many citizens in the Valley will remember when the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Prince Charles made a stop in Swan River back in 1970. Most of the members arrived by car after a tour in The Pas, but Prince Charles came by plane from Norway House. A group of local Valley residents had the privilege of accompanying the Royal Family during their stop in the community.
“Swan River was picked as one of the Queen’s tour spots by the provincial government because it was Manitoba’s centennial year in 1970,” said Reid Minish.
“There was a locally formed committee and they were directed to find people to act as escorts for when the Royal Family were visiting. There was the issue of needing escorts for Prince Charles and Princess Anne at that time. I was asked if I would be interested in escorting Princess Anne and was 17 years old at the time.
“I was a young individual at that time who was aware of the significance of the Royal Family and thought it was a neat idea. I ran it by my parents and they thought it was a good idea. It was quite the experience and the only advice I should have taken was from my mother when she told me to get a haircut before the event, which I didn’t.
“It was an experience of a lifetime as I reflect on her Majesty’s passing and Prince Phillip’s as well, and Prince Charles, whom I sat two shoulders from, is now the King of Commonwealth,” said Minish. “I thought about it over the years and just what a remarkable event and time it was.”
The Royal Family was accompanied by James H. Bilton, MLA and Mrs. Bilton; Norm Olfrey and Mrs. Olfrey; Mayor L.F. Matthews and Mrs. Matthews, along with Naomi Blake and Reid Minish greeted them upon their arrival. When the Royal Family was brought to the rodeo grounds for the Centennial Grandstand Show, they were escorted past a Legion Colour Guard. Murray Theunissen presented a bouquet of flowers to Queen Elizabeth and Bobbi Butterfield gave one to Princess Anne.
“The Royal Family came to the Valley and there were some dignitaries waiting to greet them,” said Minish. “Where my responsibility came in, was where they had some big chuckwagons on display at the rodeo grounds. I was asked to be there with the Royal Family and the escorts, and we sat in a special area set aside for us in the grandstands. The performance lasted about 45 minutes.
“I was formally introduced to Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the Royal Family that was in attendance. We were trained in the proper protocols of greeting and addressing the Royal Family; a kind of what to do and what not to do sort of thing. We were told to only speak when spoken to. They went through the receiving line of meeting their escorts and the people who would be with them. I shook all of their hands and properly addressed them.”
The Swan River School Band and mass choir did a performance for the Royal Family before the Centennial Grandstand Show. During the event, the Royal Family seemed particularly interested in the cutting horse exhibition that was demonstrated by Manitoba’s five top cutting horses.
“Looking back to that time, the Queen was just the same as they have been describing her on television and discussing her time in reign,” said Minish. “Her Majesty and the Royal Family were kind of normal and at times I think we wondered how they must have had to struggle to make conversation. Instead, they were very polite, inquisitive and there was no arrogance present with them at all.
“There were time constraints involved with the Royal Family’s visit to ensure they saw everything that had been planned for their trip. They watched the chuckwagon races with great enthusiasm and every second was very professional and polite. They were lovely people to meet.
“As part of the conversation, they talked about how intrigued they were by the pony chuckwagon races,” said Minish. “The Royal Family were horse kind of people, particularly the Queen and even Princess Anne both have horses back in England. They were very interested in how this all worked in Western Canada and there was positive feedback given by them for everything that they saw during their time here.”
The Royal Family was definitely smitten by the Centennial Grandstand Show and all the excitement it had to offer. The Duck of Edinburgh was a patron of the Canadian Cutting Horse Association and as such, he presented a large trophy to Al Cannon of Winnipeg, who was the owner and rider of the winning cutting horse.
Following the Centennial Grandstand Show, the Royal Family were escorted to the Swan Valley Lodge and visited by a large crowd of pioneers, senior citizens and their guests. Both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip shook hands with the people and asked questions and wished each person continued good health. All of the members of the Royal Family greeted the Valley’s two eldest pioneers at that time, Mrs. Elizabeth Metcalfe who was 99 years old and Mr. Frank Dennis who was 96.
The Royal Family then took an unscheduled walk from 4th Avenue South to the C.N.R. station and talked with some of the hundreds of people who were waiting patiently to see them. They then boarded the train to move on to their next destination for the tour. The entire experience was one that Minish will never forget.
“I was pretty young at that time and wasn’t too worldly at all when the Royal Family came to visit Swan River, but I just thought the simplicity in how they met with me back then was just impressive,” said Minish. “They found a common thread and were able to communicate and visit at a comfortable level with someone who is a very common person in society. I honestly feel that was one of the strengths they have, is to be able to associate on a level with the individuals they spoke with on tour. It made me feel special to have had that opportunity.
“The Royal Family dignified themselves, along with ourselves, by allowing us to have a basic conversation about something that wasn’t foreign to us, but rather our regular way of life. They showed interest in what we did, tried to understand how things worked and showed a level of appreciation for it.”
When Minish learned of the Queen’s turn in health, he began to reflect on his experience from 1970. Not only has Minish himself had the remarkable opportunity to meet members of the Royal Family, but he has extended family who has as well.
“Knowing the Queen was ill and I was out of town when she passed, one of the first things that came to mind was that the man I sat beside during that visit in 1970 is now the King,” said Minish. “Then I realized I shook hands with the Queen and now I have shaken both the hands of the former Queen and future King. That was an opportunity that very few people have had and I’m honoured by the experience and privilege.
“The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in Yellowknife in July of 2011. It was relative to the passing of my sister and there was a Garden of Hope that was established there. My three nieces met the Duke and Duchess as a result of that.
It’s very unique that a family like ours would have had such opportunities to meet members of the Royal Family.
“I have more of an appreciation for the entire experience now, than I did back then; it’s something special that I won’t forget,” said Minish.

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