It was a cloudy day on May 5, 1971, when British royalty arrived in Fort Steele.
Thousands thronged to the heritage town northeast of Cranbrook to welcome Princess Anne, Prince Philip, and Queen Elizabeth II as part of a tour to mark the centennial anniversary of British Columbia’s entry into Confederation.
Louiesa Pierce was in that crowd along with her two boys as the royals toured the Fort Steele, which included lunch in a tea room in the Wasa Hotel museum and a train ride in the Dunrobin locomotive.
“She was my queen, and especially when I think about being that close to her and realizing she was more than just my queen, she was more than just a woman,” said Pierce.
“I have never been that close to anyone that special before”
The Royal Family flew into the Cranbrook-Kimberley airport that morning, before being whisked out to Fort Steele. The royals were received at the bandstand by local dignitaries and elected officials before taking an informal stroll down the street by the pharmacy and doctors office, before turning back to the museum.
“They walked slowly down this sidewalk and talked to people occasionally,” Pierce said. “No loud voices or anything and we got to look at them.
“I guess the feeling I got when I looked at her and she was looking at the crowd, was this was a very special person.”
As a teenager, Judy Cleland was also in attendance, helping her parents Pete and Nellie Vereshagen prepare six Clydsdale horses (Heather, Kay, Jock, Jerry, Donna and Nellie) and wagon for a demonstration. She recalls spending hours in the barn before the dignitaries arrived, braiding manes and tails, shining tack leather and harnesses, cleaning hooves and bathing the horses in anticipation of a royal audience.
At the appointed time, Pete and Nellie took the six-horse team and wagon out for the demonstration, doing some circles and figure-eights between the bandstand and the Wasa Hotel.
“I just remember the horses going out and me running to the boardwalk to catch a glimpse of the Queen, that’s about my significant memory; is running to see this,” said Cleland. “It wasn’t so much about my mum and dad doing the performance but I wanted to get a glimpse of the Queen because there was all this talk about all this royalty coming.”
The royal tour also included a ride on the Dunrobin locomotive, which stopped mid-run so everyone could get a good look at the Kootenay River valley and inspect a plaque in the engine that had been signed by other reigning monarchs.
During Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 year reign, she visited Canada many times, including six stops in British Columbia over the decades.
The Royal Family announced her death on Sept. 8, 2022.
Queen Elizabeth II, 96, was the longest-reigning British monarch and longest recorded of any female head of state in history.
Editors note: Special thanks to Dave Humphrey for sending along a digital copy of the May 6, 1971 Cranbrook Daily Townsman housed at the Cranbrook History Centre, which featured coverage of the Royal Family visit to Fort Steele.