The King's Speech, BC Version

Posted by Daniel on Jan 27, 2011

Viewers of the Oscar-nominated movie will be interested to learn that Colin Firth, oops I mean King George VI, visited BC in May 1939 as part of a six-week cross-Canada tour he and his wife Queen Elizabeth (that's Helena Bonham Carter to you movie buffs) made to rally support for the war that had come to seem inevitable. It was the first visit to Canada by a reigning British monarch.

The royal couple arrived in Vancouver by train early in the morning on May 29 and after touring the city in an open-top limousine they made their way to a reception at City Hall where they met seven residents of the province who had received the Victoria Cross. Then it was downtown for a luncheon at the Hotel Vancouver, which had opened in its present location just a few days earlier.

After lunch they drove through east Vancouver and across the Second Narrows Bridge to the North Shore and tea in the British Properties.

The return trip took them across the Lions Gate Bridge which had opened to traffic the previous autumn. Some accounts have them officially opening the bridge but according to Lilia D'Acres and Don Luxton, in their book Lions Gate, the royals turned down a request to unveil a plaque and instead motored right through the park without stopping. Which did not keep the bridge company from putting up a plaque anyway, commemorating Their Majesties' royal crossing.

The limo deposited the King and Queen at the CPR dock where they boarded the cruise ship Princess Marguerite which carried them to Victoria, accompanied by four naval destroyers, a flotilla of private boats and 24 Haida canoes. (Interestingly, unlike its royal passengers, the Marguerite would not survive the war; it was requisitioned by the military and sunk by a torpedo in the Mediterranean in 1942.)

In Victoria on May 30 the King gave a speech at the Empress Hotel which was broadcast over CBC radio and heard around the world. You might think of it as the first King's Speech, though there was no sign of Lionel Logue anywhere. If you listen to the speech (here) you will find little of the famous impediment, though certainly His Highness speaks slowly and determinedly. After two nights at Government House the royals resumed their travels, heading back by train across the country to Halifax where on June 15 they left Canada aboard the CP liner Empress of Britain.

The speech depicted in the movie took place on September 3, 1939, upon the outbreak of war with Germany.