The City of New Westminster has lowered flags at all civic facilities in recognition of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
“I’m saddened to hear the news regarding the passing of Queen Elizabeth. She was an incredible leader on the world stage,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “She had visited New Westminster on a couple of occasions, and there was a special relationship with our community.”
The Royal Family issued a statement saying the Queen died peacefully at her Balmoral residence on the afternoon of Sept. 8. She was 96.
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth visited New Westminster, a city named by her great-grandmother Queen Victoria, several times, including visits in 1959, 1971 and 1983.
“It’s the end of an era,” said New West resident and historian Jim Wolf.
Earlier this summer, Wolf posted some information and photos about the Queen’s 1971 visit to New Westminster on a Facebook page dedicated to nostalgic/sentimental New Westminster pictures.
“The royal yacht, Britannia, was docked in New Westminster, and she used New Westminster as the base to go to Fort Langley, to go to Vancouver, to visit New Westminster City Hall,” he said. “And there's just a fantastic collection of images that are at the New Westminster Archives that I got access to, and I included some of those in my posts. It's just fabulous.”
Wolf was a six-year-old boy living in Burnaby when Queen Elizabeth visited B.C. in May 1971.
“It's personal to me because I remember being on Canada Way as a little kid, waving at the Queen as she drove by; me and my Oma standing on the side of the road,” he recalled. “It was such a big deal.”
Crowds lined Canada Way as the Queen’s motorcade made its way from the Royal City to Burnaby City Hall.
“When the Queen went by, she looked right at us and gave us a big smile and a wave,” Wolf said. “I'll never forget that moment.”
As soon as the motorcade went by, Wolf said everybody jumped into their cars and drove to Burnaby municipal hall.
“I'm not kidding – hundreds, if not thousands of people followed that motorcade, and then everybody got out at city hall,” he said. “There were thousands of people there to welcome her to Burnaby.”
Wolf said a visit from the Queen was a big deal for New Westminster and Burnaby residents as those were “pretty simple” days.
“It still lives in my memory. I can see everything so clearly, and I think that for a lot of people, it was such a big moment,” he said. “People remember; people really remember it. It was such a special moment in time that people talked about.”
Wolf said it may be hard for a lot of people to understand today what the Queen meant to people at that time in history.
“I think she was such an important connection for a whole generation of New Westminster residents, especially during the war years,” he reflected. “During the Second World War, she was such an instrumental figure in stability, of carrying things forward after so much turmoil, and people saw that. And even the fact that she was so young when she ascended the throne, people who had kind of dismissed monarchy, all of a sudden monarchy was back again when she came to the throne. There was a whole new generation of people that felt that her presence in that position was so important. And the fact that it was a woman – it was another important milestone for women and for seeing women in power.”
During a West Coast tour of B.C. in 1983, Queen Elizabeth once again visited New Westminster, when she attended an anvil salute at New Westminster City Hall by the Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery. Media reports from that time suggest that the customary 21-shot royal salute was cut short at 15 blasts to save wear on attendees’ ears.
After the anvil salute, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip headed to Queen’s Park for the annual May Day celebration, an event attended by about 1,000 local school children.
As news of the Queen’s passing spread, many New West residents expressed condolences on social media.
The New Westminster-based Society of the Officers of the Honourable Guard has arranged with the City of New Westminster for flowers to be placed in memory of the Queen at the corner of McBride Boulevard and Sixth Avenue, in front of the Queen’s Park sign.
Rob Rathbun, a member of the society, said the group had an “overwhelming response” to its Jubilee Display on Canada Day, and is proud it had the opportunity to pay tribute to the Queen. He said the public is invited to place flowers at the Queen’s Park sign.
At the age of 25, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, after the death of her father. Earlier this year, a number of celebrations were held to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
“What an incredible story, an incredible life,” Wolf said. “What a sad day but at the same time she led a pretty amazing life.”