King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939

Norm Sherritt recalls when royalty visited Fort Langley in 1939

The royal train did not stop, but those who were present got a good look at the king and queen during their visit to Canada in 1939.

Editor’s note — This story was originally published in The Times on April 2, 2002, on the occasion of the passing of the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth.

 

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, visited Langley as part of the Royal Tour of 1939 — even though the train that was transporting the royal couple did not stop.

Langley historian Norm Sherritt has vivid memories of that long-ago day — May 31, 1939.

The King and Queen had travelled to B.C. on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and were heading back east on the Canadian National, which runs through Fort Langley. Their itinerary had been set in advance, and a stop in Langley was not on the schedule, even though local officials tried their utmost to convince tour organizers to stop the train here.

Nonetheless, Langley residents made lemonade out of the lemons they had been handed.

Stringers and bleachers were set up on the north bank of the historic fort property overlooking the tracks, where a log wall now stands. At that time, the bank was easily accessible from within the fort grounds.

School children from all over Langley were transported to the fort, and given seats in the bleachers. They were also given free ice cream, Sherritt remembers.

He was there, but as a graduate from Langley High the previous year was considered an adult and was expected to pay an admission fee to sit in the bleachers. As he was standing there, the school children marched to their seats. Langley High principal H.L. Manzer invited him to join in with the high school students, so he got a free seat.

Sherritt recalls that the pilot train went by about 20 minutes ahead of the train that was carrying the royal couple. When the royal train came into Fort Langley, it slowed down, so it was travelling about five miles per hour.

Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King was aboard and waved to the crowds through a vestibule at the end of one of the cars, but was booed by many Langley residents, Sherritt recalls.

There was nothing but cheers for the King and Queen, who waved to the crowd from the rear observation platform of the last car. They remained there until the train had pulled by, and then the King turned to go inside the car.

That brings out Sherritt’s favorite memory of the occasion.

“The King turned to go inside the car, and the Queen touched his coat and made him come back and stay. Everybody had a real good view of them both, and they must have stayed there until the train was somewhere in East Langley.”

There was an aftermath to the royal visit to Langley. Many people could not afford to license their cars because of the tough economic times of the Great Depression, and had placed them on blocks.

A rumour went around that people could drive to Fort Langley to see the King and Queen without the necessity of getting 1939 licence plates. The rumour was incorrect.

Sherritt remembers that a number of people got tickets for driving with expired plates, although he does not think they were fined when they made their appearances in court.

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