A prince and two queens

June 2021

It’s been quite a year for the Royal Family of Great Britain, with already more than the usual pomp, ceremony and requisite scandal. This year, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 95th birthday two weeks after losing her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip. While such grand events don’t often affect people on this side of the pond, one Thunder Bay woman looks back to the day she met both the Queen and her royal consort in the former Port Arthur in 1959.

“I was to represent ‘the young people’ of the area,” says former Miss Northwestern Ontario, Dawne Kilgour (nee Murphy). “And I had a month to learn the proper protocols. I was given a dress code that included a dress (no skirts or trousers), a hat and gloves. I was instructed in appropriate conversation with the royals (‘don’t initiate conversation, just nod and move along’) and if the Queen offered her hand, I was to take it gently, smile, then release. And of course, the curtsey!”

1959 was the royal couple’s second visit to the city, the first being in 1951, a year before Elizabeth took the throne. The purpose of the trip was to officially open the St. Lawrence Seaway, but they continued on around the Great Lakes aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, arriving in Port Arthur on July 9. While they attended several ceremonies in the twin cities, it was a sunny afternoon at the Port Arthur Stadium where the former Miss Northwestern Ontario was presented.

“The Royal limo pulled up in front of the stage and the place lit up,” says Dawne. “The Queen was so petite, wearing a yellow coat and dress, with, of course, a lovely yellow hat. She was smiling but to be honest, she seemed almost shy. Prince Philip offered her his arm to help her climb the dais and the crowd erupted in cheers.”

After a few speeches and a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen, the presentations began.

“What had taken a month for me was over in a flash,” says Dawne. “My turn – the curtsey, her shy smile and gentle handshake, her words a blur. But then, the Prince stepped forward, took my hand, and said, “And who do you represent?” I looked up into his eyes. They were grey and flecked with gold.

I held my breath, but then I remembered my rehearsed answer. “The young men and women of Northwestern Ontario, sir.” And I curtseyed again, preparing to move along as instructed. But the Prince didn’t let go.

“He asked how I had captured that particular honour. I had no answer prepared. I hadn’t expected to speak more, but he still held my hand, smiling as if truly interested. ‘A friendly competition amongst neighbouring communities,’ I said lightly.

“Did you have to sell tickets?” he asked, “Or go knocking on doors for votes?”

“Oh my gosh, no!” I blurted, and to my surprise, they both laughed. Suddenly, my anxiety disappeared, and it was as if I was with friends. I briefly explained the pageant process, how I had discussed art history as ‘my talent’ instead of singing or dancing, and how it was an honour to represent the youth of our region. It must have satisfied, for he released my hand and smiled one last time before moving on to the next person.”

Her parents were proud, and a crowd of friends, family and neighbours were waiting when Dawne returned home that day. The radio had been abuzz with the news. ‘And the Duke is still holding her hand!” the announcer kept saying. ‘Whatever are they talking about?’

“Everyone kept asking me the same thing. What were you talking about with the Queen and the Prince for so long? Well, I would smile and say, ‘just the same old things we talk about with our friends.’”

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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