September 1919. The first Armistice Day was less than a year past and, after four years of bloodletting, it was a time for healing. Hence a goodwill visit during his Canadian tour by the Prince of Wales – he, who, almost 20 years later as King Edward VIII, would renounce his throne for “the woman I love”.
“We wish to express the very great pleasure it is to us, to be afforded the opportunity, and we desire on behalf of our citizens to extend Your Royal Highness a sincere and cordial welcome to our city,” said Mayor H. McKenzie who, with a contingent of decorated veterans, greeted HRH’s arrival by train.
“Many of our people are from the Motherland, and they very highly prize its institutions and government. We are pleased that our city is today honoured by [your] presence and we hope and believe that your journey across the continent has disclosed to you that our Dominion is loyal to the throne and person of His Majesty, and we believe that your journey through our country will assist in a most important manner to strengthen the ties that now so firmly bind together all parts of the vast Empire over which His Majesty rules so well…”
All these years (and another world war) later, we’re still a member of the Commonwealth, we still have strong ties with Great Britain, we still have a Governor General and Lieutenants-Governor. But we don’t wear our feelings of nationalism and loyalty to the crown on our sleeves anymore, and some of Mayor McKenzie’s rhetoric borders on the cloying and leaves one feeling, um, uncomfortable: “With the feelings of pleasure and pride, we beg to assure you that in no place throughout our vast Dominion can be found more loyal subjects than the citizens in Nanaimo.”
At least, Nanaimo residents were courteous enough not to upstage the royal visit. Earlier, in Duncan, as many as 3,000 people had gathered to greet HRH at the E&N station, where a raised dais had been placed before the station platform, beneath an attractive archway erected by members of the Great War Veterans Assoc.
Suddenly, as the train approached, there was “a whirr in the air as Pathfinder II circled down and passed over the cheering concourse. So great was the excitement,” reported the Cowichan Leader of the arrival of the city’s first aircraft, “that the near approach of the Prince’s train was almost unheeded.”
Because of the unexpected excitement, the royal visit – scheduled to be just 10 minutes – lasted half an hour before the train could proceed to Nanaimo. Then the crowd moved on to the fields of the nearby Evans farm (today’s Island Savings Centre), to examine their aerial visitor. At least 40 of them (including the late Jack Fleetwood, I recall him telling me) capped a memorable and historic day by taking advantage of the opportunity to soar aloft for a small fee.
Edward’s arrival in Duncan was a tough act to follow but Nanaimo did its best. Mayor McKenzie and City Clerk Sam Gough expressed the Hub City’s pleasure in his visit and its significance in marking the end of the Great War: “In common with the rest of His Majesty’s subjects… we celebrate…with joy and thanksgiving the conclusion of the World War which had plunged the world into sorrow and suffering; and we pray that the peace now so happily inaugurated, may by the grace of God, be a lasting one, and the horrors of armed conflict among the civilized nations of the world shall never again occur.”
Well, we know that the war to end all wars didn’t end global conflict. But we are still bonded by our common heritage with Great Britain so, perhaps, there is some hope for peace in this world.
After presenting medals to several veterans and the widow of Sgt. Peter McCorkindale, the Prince expressed his appreciation of the city’s warm welcome and carried on his royal way, secure in the knowledge that “in this part of the Island, British institutions are safe in your keeping and it is a special pleasure for me to be able to pay a visit to a City which more than played its part in the great effort that the Empire was called upon to make during the last four years in the cause of humanity and justice.
“Now that the war has been brought to a happy and victorious termination, I feel sure that the same spirit which carried you through those dark days will help you to solve the many problems of reconstruction which lie before us all. The future of your city is I know a bright one, and in wishing your citizens all success in their various callings, I look forward to finding Nanaimo, on the occasion of my next visit, even more smiling and prosperous than she is today.”
All this, of course, was years before “that woman,” Mrs. Simpson, abdication and semi-exile.