IROQUOIS – People in Iroquois on Saturday, June 29th, might be forgiven for thinking that the clock had turned back 60 years when Her Majesty and Prince Philip breezed through the plaza in a 1962 Mercury on their way to the Iroquois beach.
Actually, it was a re-enactment, planned and run by the Iroquois Waterfront Advisory Committee, of Queen Elizabeth II’s historic visit to this village in 1959 as part of the celebrations of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Waterfront Committee is dedicated to preserving living memories and pictures and stories of this community.
Her Majesty and HRH Prince Philip, travelling in the Royal Yacht Britannia, briefly stopped in Iroquois in 1959, to see the town “moved” for the Seaway, greeting town officials and accepting gifts from two local school girls. One of those school girls, Barb Fetterly, joined a crowd gathered at the Beach pavilion, to share her memories of that special day in late June 1959, six decades ago. She and the other presenter, Christine Davis, who would present a bouquet to the Queen, were carefully coached the night before in royal etiquette.
“We were told, courtsy when introduced, wear a hat and gloves and speak only if spoken to. We were also told,” Barb recalled, “that the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting would actually take the flowers and the four sets of beautiful monogrammed Caldwell gift towels I was presenting to her Majesty. I was just as nervous as Christmas morning.”
The Royal Couple was late, and by the time the great moment came, Barb could not recall what to say if the Queen did speak to her.
“But I do remember that Her Majesty and Prince Philip both had very blue eyes. Hers were sky blue, his were like the ocean.”
However, when it was time to present the gift towels, there was a glitch, Barb laughed, that her 15-year-old self was not expecting. No Lady-in-Waiting stepped forward to collect the gift.
“The Queen and I looked at each other, then we both looked directly at Prince Philip,” Barb said. “So I handed him the package. The next bit was actually caught on film. Prince Philip literally tossed the package of towels into the air, and it was caught by a naval equerry. Believe me, I have never forgotten that day.”
Lorne Strader also recalled his memories of old Iroquois, of the town as it once was along the banks of the river.
He mentioned townspeople that many in the crowd could still recall, and spoke of businesses and buildings that were once well known arts of the old Iroquois landscape.
“The day the Queen came, she was seven years into her reign. I was there to see her. We were both born the same year. She’s still working and so am I,” he concluded to laughter. Bonnie Adair, who had been a member of the last graduating class of Iroquois High School, was also in the new town on the big day.
“I was in the actual shopping centre. My aunt owned a shop there, and she took all the mannequins out of her store window, so we could be up on a little platform to see everything,” Bonnie said. “There was just a mass of people gathered. I think there had to be 3,000 school children crammed into the plaza to greet the Queen.”
The Royal stop over in Iroquois was only a brief one.
“Then the Queen drove off on the very newly paved road to the Point. The sun was shining, the bands were all playing, and she took up her journey to Brockville.”
Bonnie had one final thought about the events of June 1959.
“After all of us living a lifetime by the grand old river, it seems to me that the arrival of the Queen was truly the only ending possible to the saga of the Seaway,”
Visitors had the opportunity to see a display of photos set up on the beach. Ross Video ran the original black and white television coverage of the Royal Visit to Iroquois in 1959 in the plaza for part of Saturday afternoon.
The 2019 Queen’s Visit, with chair of the Committee, Jim Wilson serving as emcee, was a special event planned by members the Committee, including Jim Millard, designed to “remember our history,” Jim Wilson said. “Last year we recalled the flooding of the Seaway, and this year we are commemorating the
visit of the Queen. Our beach here is clean, beautiful and accessible. It has become a magnet for a strong community.”