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Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York
on board the Empress of India, Victoria, 1901

From the earliest tours to the present one, the travel and accommodation arrangements for the royal party have presented logistical and security issues. British Columbia is a large province, and the two principal cities, Victoria and Vancouver, are separated by water.

Children waving at the train carrying the
Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York
through Golden, 1901

Private ocean liners, yachts, trains, automobiles and planes have all been used to carry members of the Royal Family through the province. Paradoxically, some parts of these journeys are designed to be high profile with many opportunities for the public to view the royals, while other parts are intended to give them privacy and rest, and are deliberately low-key.

Princess Margaret with Premier W.A.C. Bennett
in Kelowna, July 19, 1958
Detail of E-07431

As a result, the vehicles used have to provide comfort, speed, and relative security but at the same time keep the royals visible.

Concerns about security are not a modern phenomenon. Even Queen Victoria, generally a popular figure in Britain, was attacked eight times during the course of her long reign. In British Columbia, the Provincial Secretary was the government member who acted as the liaison and co-ordinator for royal tours. Records from this department of government show how concerned provincial and municipal officials were about the possibility of security breaches.

Telegram from Chief Constable McLellan
regarding crowd control for the visit
of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
to Victoria in 1939
GR-0155, Reel B08468

For the 1939 tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, much of their travel was done by train, and to ensure that the tracks were safe and that no explosives had been planted, a pilot train always travelled over the route first. Because crowd control was usually the biggest issue police and military escorts were always provided at public events. Provincial Secretary records (in GR-0155) show that police expected over 100,000 people to come to Victoria to see the King and Queen.

Security information about recent royal tours is not yet available at the Archives, but Provincial Secretary’s records from 1939, 1951, 1958 and 1959, can be viewed, and additional records from the Centennial Committees for 1958, 1967 and 1971 are also available.

The parlour car on the Royal Train
used by the Duke and Duchess
of Cornwall and York, as they
travelled across Canada in 1901

When the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) visited the province in September 1901, they arrived on a Royal Train, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway for their personal use and equipped with luxurious fittings and commissioned art. Three cars contained private apartments with boudoirs, parlours and bathrooms while others were sleepers for staff. Even a medical dispensary was built on board.

The CPR produced a promotional booklet describing the amenities, which included "the greatest marvel of all…[a] telephone of a new pattern that has been installed in all the cars. It is possible for four persons to speak at the same time without any one of them interfering with any other, and moreover, each car is connected with all the rest, so that inter-telephonic communication exists between every coach from one end of the long train to the other." (See: The Royal Visit to Canada, NWp 971E/C212l).

Front cover of Souvenir of Our Royal Visitors,
a pamphlet published to commemorate the visit of the
Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, 1901
Nwp 971.94 v214

The trip was continued across the strait to Vancouver Island by the Empress of India, a luxury liner also owned by the CPR. Horses and carriages were then used on the Island.

Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught,
visiting the Colony Farm of
New Westminster, September 21, 1912

By September of 1912 and the visit of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Canada’s Governor General, the advent of the horseless carriage altered the character of the royal tours and gave the public a greater opportunity to see the royal visitors. In Victoria the royal party motored to Shawnigan Lake, and in New Westminster on September 21 the Duke used a car to travel to the Colony Farm, have lunch, visit Fraser Mills and return to New Westminster, all by 4:15 p.m.

Civic reception for the Duke and Duchess of Connaught
at the Vancouver Court House, September 18, 1912

When the Duke visited Vancouver on September 18, the civic reception was held on the steps of the Court House and as the photo on the left shows, many Vancouverites were able to bring their cars to the event.

License Plate
(select the image or this link
for detail showing the Dill family)
Detail of G-00255

The license plates of some of these vehicles can be read in the original photograph, and by using license register entries from 1912 found in Motor Vehicle Branch records (see GR-0665, Volume 30) one can determine that a Mr. William Edgett and family, of 1350 10th Avenue West, came in their "Wonin" automobile, and the John C. Dill family of 2466 6th Avenue West came in their "Hudson".

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
travelling in one of the two
McLaughlin-Buick convertibles
manufactured for the royal tour,
New Westminster, May 31, 1939

In 1939 the first visit of a reigning monarch to Canada brought King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to British Columbia. While much of the cross-country tour was done by train, travel within the cities they visited was accomplished using two sets of convertible limousines. These leapfrogged by train across the country ahead of the royal couple. One of these vehicles, a three ton McLaughlin Buick in royal maroon is on display in the lobby at the Royal British Columbia Museum until December 31, 2002. It went into private ownership after the tour but was loaned for use by Queen Elizabeth during her 1994 visit to open the Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

Motion Picture: A Royal Visit 1939

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160 X 112 pixels, 783 K file size

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King George VI and Queen Elizabeth travelling in the McLaughlin-Buick

Excerpt from V1988:20 REF (silent)

Convertibles combined practicality with visibility and were often used during the tours - during the sometimes rainy October 1951 visit of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh a convertible with a clear roof allowed cold and wet crowds to view the heir to the throne.

Motion Picture: Royal Visit 1951

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160 X 112 pixels, 1349 K file size

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Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arriving at Vancouver's Shaughnessy Hospital, 1951

Excerpt from V1986:41/1 REF

Since the 1950’s planes have been used to carry the Royals to the more distant parts of the province and to permit quick travel between engagements.

Arrival of Princess Margaret in Vernon
by "flying boat", a Mallard amphibian aircraft,
July 18, 1958
Detail of NA-42145

Princess Margaret’s tour of the province in 1958 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Colony of British Columbia took her to Fort St. John by plane, Quesnel and Prince George by train, and later she flew between Penticton and Vernon by "boat plane", a novel experience, and one which allowed British Columbia to demonstrate the wide range of aircraft used in the rugged province.

Motion Picture: Princess in wonderland

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Princess Margaret's ride through Williams Lake and her visit to the rodeo, July 18, 1958

Excerpt from V1986:42 REF

During her visit to Williams Lake she even rode in a stagecoach through the center of town!

Her Majesty's yacht Britannia
moored in the Inner Harbour of Victoria
during the 1971 Royal Visit

Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia was also used several times for Royal Visits, serving as an official and private residence. During the Queen’s 1971 10-day visit, it was used to carry the royal party, Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier W.A.C. Bennett between Victoria and Vancouver. It also served as a home away from home for the Queen. When it was built in 1953 she played an active part in choosing the furnishings and family photographs. It required a crew and staff of nearly 300, and the crew communicated by hand signals rather than shouted orders so that the Royal Family and visiting guests would not be disturbed. The Queen used the yacht again in 1983, on this occasion travelling from Victoria to Vancouver, where she started a cement mixer on the future site of the Expo ’86 Canada Pavillion, and offered the "invitation to the world" for Expo ’86.