With the recent celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee and with Victoria Day around the corner, which is the monarch’s official birthday in Canada, it seems like a fitting time to step back nearly seven decades to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II to see how Townshippers marked the momentous occasion.
Elizabeth II acceded to the throne following her father’s death on February 6, 1952 but her coronation only took place 16 months later, on June 2, 1953. Adding to the excitement and build-up around the ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was the first to be fully televised and the Commonwealth realms around the world were invited to participate with their own celebrations. Many part of Canada whole-heartedly joined in events of all magnitudes. Among the Canadian press, the demand for photographs and film reels to rebroadcast the coronation ceremony was such that jet bombers were chartered to fly film from London to Montreal immediately following the event; they landed in Montreal in the early evening of Coronation Day.
Not to be left out of the elaborate festivities in London and in the larger cities across Canada, cities and towns around the Townships went all in for their own coronation celebrations. Leading up to the coronation, the Sherbrooke High School Players put on their “Coronation Revue” in March 1953 at the Mitchell School. The two-night performance included songs celebrating the realms of the Commonwealth, followed by skits to highlight English and French Canada, and the Maritimes. The Sherbrooke Daily Record even reported on the number of babies who were born on the day of the Queen’s coronation. Among the seven babies were a set of twin girls whose parents named “Anne” and “Elizabeth” in honour of their royal birthday. For one baby boy who was still unnamed at the time the paper went to press, it was reported that the nurses were campaigning for “Philip.”
On June 2, a number of towns hosted – at minimum – a parade to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II, but many also organized festivities throughout the whole day. Sherbrooke held a full programme at the parade grounds with speeches, songs, fireworks and movies at Jacques Cartier Park, and the Sherbrooke District Council Boy Scouts hosted a “Coronation Day council fire” in the parking lot at the high school.
North Hatley celebrated with races, games, a parade, a concert, street dancing, fireworks, and closed out their event with a bonfire float in the middle of Lake Massawippi. In contrast, the village of Massawippi celebrated with the presentation of a portrait of the Queen for the Community Hall, followed by a salad and baked bean supper. In a completely different direction, Windsor hosted a Coronation Curling Bonspiel with 28 rinks participating.
As of Coronation Day, Lennoxville’s “Main Street” was re-christened to the “Queen Street” we know today, and, in addition to games and fireworks, organized a parade through the streets, led by Bishop’s College School’s Bugle Band and approximately 200 children on bicycles, tricycles and homemade floats. Coaticook hosted a Coronation dance and parade, where one of the special prizes was awarded to a bicycle-drawn wagon carrying a little girl dressed as the Queen. In Stanstead, the festivities were off to an early start with church bells ringing throughout the three villages at the exact moment of coronation (7:30AM), followed by a parade, baseball game, and street dance in the evening.
Clearly, the communities of the Townships found great excitement in Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and enthusiastically celebrated in a variety of ways. However, while the events were organized around the coronation, the activities were also significant as an excuse for people to get out and socialize with their neighbours in the middle of an otherwise normal workweek.