‘I’ll never forget’: When the future Queen arrived in Northern Ontario
The fire that engulfed the Kapsukasing Inn in 2007 also took with it the epicenter of an 18-hour royal visit to northern Ontario.
In 1951, the Tudor-style hotel hosted Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip as part of their 33-day tour across Canada which marked their first visit to this country. Today, an Ontario Provincial Police station stands on the site of the former 90-room hotel, but memories of the visit linger in the minds of a handful of town residents, including 850 kilometers north of Toronto.
Joan Durst remembers preparing for the event as a 13-year-old guide. It was a sunny October afternoon, and thousands of people from the city and surrounding communities had taken the royal family’s arrival road – parallel to the Kapuskasing River – to the hostel. from Highway 11.
Durst, now 84, remembers the excitement of walking to the inn with her troupe: “Damn, you’re going to see a princess and a (future) queen. And the cops. Wow, that was huge for Kapuskasing. Really, really big. The only thing that was ever more exciting for me was when the Snowbirds (from the Royal Canadian Air Force) arrived.
As the brownies and guides lined up by size and the royal couple arrived, Durst recalls seeing the RCMP lining the way in their impressive uniforms and the onlookers all dressed in their best. But Elizabeth, she recalls, “surpassed everyone. She was just a vision in yellow. She was young, so beautiful. And seemed to be very, very friendly and had such a lovely smile.”
At that time, Durst remembers just looking at the princess and nothing else. “I looked at it for a long time. I really, really studied it. What I really found so pleasant was that her smile was so easy, it was always easy.
“It’s a moment I will never forget. Even when my gray matter starts to fade, I’m sure I’ll remember it.
Not everyone in town got to see Elizabeth and Philip that day.
Ivy Watts, pastry chef in the inn’s kitchens, was busy making preparations for the visit. (The always-busy Watts recently took part in a phone interview about the decades-old events between Saturday visits and continues to reward people with her famous butter pies.)
Yet Watts, who next year will be eligible to receive a centenary greeting from the monarch (and therefore may have received it from Elizabeth), recalls that while the princess and prince were touring the mill, a colleague told her. brought from the kitchens to the couple’s bedrooms to see the outfit prepared for the reception at the community club that evening.
Elizabeth’s 70-year reign as monarch has seen many changes to her kingdoms, and Kapuskasing has not been spared. The hostel, which was built in 1927 and renamed its best rooms Princess and Prince rooms in honor of their stay there, closed in 2002 and died out in 2007 after a fire caused by two minors.
The city paper mill no longer produces newsprint for The New York Times; which stopped in 1991, closing the factory for a while. Faced with formidable obstacles, the city took it on with a partnership with the Montreal paper company Tembec, saving jobs and Kapuskasing.
The royal visit, meanwhile, lives on in the photos and memories of the few.
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