Meeting Queen Elizabeth II and chatting with her aboard her royal yacht were moments that former mayor Tom Baker and wife Emily never forgot.
Baker, who served as New Westminster’s mayor from 1982 to 1988, welcomed the Queen to New Westminster during her visit to British Columbia in March 1983. Karen Baker-MacGrotty, Baker’s daughter, was among the citizens who gathered at city hall to welcome Queen Elizabeth to New Westminster.
“They had a huge ceremony outside city hall,” she said. “There were thousands of people.”
After a formal presentation on the front steps of New Westminster City Hall, the Queen descended a long a red carpet, greeting people who had gathered at city hall.
“There were groups of schoolchildren and Brownies, and they all had daffodils. Everybody was carrying daffodils and handing them to her,” Baker-MacGrotty recalled. “She worked the crowd. She went along and she greeted people and she spoke to people, and everybody was handing her the flowers.”
The previous evening, Tom and Emily Baker were among more than 100 people who had been invited to a reception onboard the royal yacht Britannia, where they were among a few guests who were able to talk to Queen Elizabeth.
“She couldn't chat extensively to a lot of people, but she did chat with them personally,” said Baker-MacGrotty. “And I would say that was the highlight of their life.”
Growing up in England, Emily had seen the Queen drive by in her motorcade – never dreaming she’d one day be greeting and spending time with Her Majesty, said Baker-MacGrotty.
Baker, a journeyman carpenter and a union business agent, moved his family to New Westminster from Liverpool, England in 1968, stepping off a train with $200 in his pocket. Ten years later he was an alderman (1978 to 1982), before serving as mayor.
“Her Majesty, she was well-briefed, I guess you would say,” said Baker-MacGrotty. “She knew all about our history, coming from Liverpool, as young immigrants to a foreign country, and within a short while my father became the mayor of New Westminster.”
Meeting the Queen was something the Bakers would remember for the rest of their lives. Tom died in 2015 and Emily passed in 2021.
“My father said she was delightful. She was very engaging. She had an engaging personality, she was witty, and smart and wise, but she still maintained that grace and dignity of being the Queen at the same time,” said Baker-MacGrotty. “It was quite a wonderful experience for them.”
It was so wonderful, in fact, that at the time, Emily Baker was left speechless after talking to Queen Elizabeth aboard the yacht. Baker-MacGrotty was at home when she received a call from her mom.
“She couldn't talk. She was actually really quite just speechless. And so I said, ‘Let me speak to father,’” she recalled. “My father said, ‘We've just spent time on the Britannia and we spent had an extensive conversation with the queen, and your mother is in shock.’”
After discovering a video on YouTube of the Queen’s 1983 visit to New Westminster City Hall, Baker-MacGrotty showed it to her mother about three years ago.
“She lit up,” she said. “You could tell it was just a delightful experience for her.”