May 24, 1939 – Mutual On-The-Spot coverage – Royal Visit to Winnipeg – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
May 24, 1939. Sensing a war looming in Europe, it was decided the best thing to do was to ensure Britain still had allies and close relationships on the other side of the Atlantic. And so King George and Queen Elizabeth set foot on Canadian soil and began a tour which criss-crossed the then-British commonwealth, greeting the regular folk.
The 1939 royal tour by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was the first time a reigning British monarch had set foot in this country. It was the most successful royal tour in Canadian history, with enormous crowds greeting the royal couple as they crossed the country by train. The King and Queen spent a month in Canada, touring the country from 17 May to 15 June (excluding four days in the United States from 8 to 11 June). They crossed the country twice in a blue and silver royal train that became the most recognizable symbol of the tour. The tour began in Quebec City when the royal couple arrived on the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Australia escorted by two destroyers and two cruisers of the Royal Canadian Navy. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King formally welcomed the couple with a speech that included the words, “Today as never before the throne has become the centre of our national life.”
The now-familiar royal walkabout, where members of the royal family meet and greet crowds of citizens during their tours, was spontaneously born in Ottawa in 1939. After dedicating the National War Memorial on 21 May, the royal couple, instead of returning to their motorcade immediately afterward, spent half an hour mingling with the 25,000 First World War veterans who were part of a crowd of at least 100,000 people. It was a stunning gesture, especially in an age when members of the royalty were often perceived as distant figureheads. A CBC radio announcer covering the event observed the warm rapport between the royal couple and the crowd: “One these old veterans is patting the King most affectionately on the shoulder…Her Majesty is chattering with one of the veterans of the amputations association…The Queen is speaking to a blind veteran now…The King is shaking hands….”
It was a huge success and did exactly what was needed to ensure Britain had a solid group of Allies (as well as the U.S.) to rely on in the coming months.
As part of the 1939 tour of Canada, here is a report via Mutual featuring the Royal stop-off in Winnipeg, as reported and broadcast live on May 24, 1939.
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