10.26.26: Queen Marie visits Toronto

By the early 1920s, Romanians in Canada were a small community of immigrants that most people had never heard of. That changed in October 1926, when their Queen – a granddaughter of Queen Victoria – visited Canada.

Toronto in 1926

Federal and provincial elections; the Prohibition

By the end of October 1926, when Queen Marie visited the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa triangle, Canadians had recently gone through a federal election. In September 1926, the Liberals won a minority under the leadership of W.L. Mackenzie King. However, with King away in London for the Imperial Conference, the Queen was met at Union Station in Ottawa by the acting prime minister, Hon. J.A. Robb.

Ontario was a “bone-dry” land in October 1926. The province was getting ready for its 17th Election, scheduled on 1 December. The prohibition was the main electoral issue, the “giggle water” drought having started back in 1916 with the Ontario Temperance Act. In the end, the Ontario Conservatives won a new mandate campaigning on ending the prohibition and instead having the government control liquor sales. As a result, the LCBO was created in 1927, thus concluding 11 years of prohibition.

Queen Marie’s host during her visit to Toronto was Ontario’s Lt. Governor, 58-year-old Henry Cockshutt, while the city’s mayor was 74-year-old Thomas Foster (“Honest Tom”).

Canadians and Romanians

In the 1921 national census , Romanians were counted with Bulgarians as one of the European races and totaled a mere 15,235 population (0.17% of Canada). Despite those small numbers, they were notably present to greet their Queen during her stops in Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal.

Two outstanding Ontarians are to be mentioned in connection to Queen Marie.

Hamilton-native Ethel Greening Pantazzi fell in love and married a Romanian port commander. She followed him, and from 1909 they lived in Romania, where she wrote a fascinating diary that extended to the end of the war. While she met only the previous Romanian Queen, she writes at large about Queen Marie as well. Her book is available for free on archive.org.

Ethel’s book describes how Toronto-native Joe Boyle worked with her husband in Odessa to save the lives of Romanian sailors and their commanders in the midst of the Bolshevik Revolution. Mr. Boyle was later decorated by Queen Marie, and until the end of his life (1923), he remained a close friend of hers.

Queen Marie of Romania in 1926

When she visited Toronto, Queen Marie was three days shy of her 51st birthday.

She was born in 1875 into the British royal family. She had refused a proposal from her cousin, the future King George V, but then went on to become a Crown Princess of Romania, between 1893 and 1914, by marrying Crown Prince Ferdinand, of German origin.

She became a Queen in 1914 and proved her courage, resilience and love for her Romanian people during World War I. However, her profile became known world-wide after her participation in the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, where she displayed extraordinary diplomatic skills in a male-dominated environment.

By the time she visited Toronto, she had been on the cover of Time magazine (4 August 1924), and quite a few called her ‘the most famous woman of our time’. Just a few months before her October visit, she published a book review in The Toronto Daily Star. A young Ernest Hemingway had once written about her in the Toronto Star Weekly (17 September 1923), so Torontonians were very excited to host such an important guest.

She travelled to Canada with her youngest children Prince Nicholas (23 yrs old at the time) and Princess Ileana (17).

The upcoming visit appeared on the front page of the local newspapers of the time, The Globe and The Toronto Daily Star. On Monday’s edition, The Globe found a special person living in Toronto, Mrs. Harry C. Gatward, the Queen’s former nursemaid.

The visit on 26 October 1926

Every trip to Toronto begins at Niagara Falls

With the preparations for her North American tour in the final stages, Queen Marie’s initial schedule included only one must-see Canadian stop: Niagara Falls. Fortunately, that changed as plans wrapped up.  In the end, she would stay a few good days on Crown land, with stops in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

A detailed account of the whole tour was published as a travelogue  in 1927 by the American journalist Constance Lily Morris. She knew the Queen from Europe personally and was on board the royal train from day one.

On Tour with Queen Marie

The royal party arrived on Monday, 18 October 1926 in New York by transatlantic boat and made it to Buffalo a week later, at 8 PM. The next morning…

The 5 o’clock edition of The Star on the day of the visit, with various reports from Queen Marie’s visit to Buffalo the night before and first impressions from her arrival in Toronto

2PM: arrival at Union Station and drive to Government House

Thousands of people waited for the Queen at Union Station, with the Romanian and British flags on display. She received representatives of the Province and the city in her private car, including Lieutenant-Governor Cockshutt with his wife, and mayor Foster. From there, the party rode through the streets of Toronto, lined at places with people eager to see the Royal visitors, all the way to the magnificent Government House in Chorley Park.

Toronto Union Station (1924)

After a break at the Governor’s mansion, the Queen returned to the Parliament buildings in the city, where she greeted members of Toronto’s Romanian Jewish community with “Bună ziua”.

The Government House in 1926

3:45 PM, Convocation Hall: the first royalty on the radio in Canadian history

At the beautiful Convocation Hall on the University of Toronto campus, the Queen was the guest of the Women’s Canadian Club. Just before the festivities, Marie became the first ever royal to speak using a brand-new medium: the radio.

The reception was followed by  5 o’clock tea at the Wymilwood house (currently Falconer Hall) on the same superb U of T campus. The Queen received numerous guests, including David Boyle of Woodstock, the brother of Marie’s dearest friend, Joe Boyle.

11:30PM: back to the train. Next: Montreal, Ottawa and Western Canada

The visit ended with a dinner and reception back at the Ontario Governor’s residence. It was one of the last functions of Henry Cockshutt as governor (he had served since 1921), as he was about to retire to his country seat in Brantford next January. His two daughters befriended Princess Ileana, then the royal party went back to the train at 11:30 PM, ready for the trip to Montreal.

Queen Marie after her 1926 North American tour

The North American tour continued for 8,750 miles, the longest journey of any train with fifteen cars attached at the time. Unfortunately, it ended abruptly when news of King Ferdinand’s illness arrived. He would die of cancer in July 1927, aged 61. The Queen and her children left New York for Europe on Monday, 22 November 1926.

Widowhood was not a happy period in her life, which was marred by her relationship with her eldest son, King Carol II of Romania. In July 1938, Queen Marie passed away from cancer at the age of 62. She never had the chance to return to Canada and the United States.

Famous Romanians in Canada

After Queen Marie’s visit, Canadians did not focus their attention on Romania for quite a while due to the big crash in 1929 and the turbulent first half of the 1930s.

That would change some ten years later, when in January 1937, a lifelong friend of the Queen arrived in Toronto at the invitation of the Women’s Musical Club.

A fragment from Queen Marie’s WWI memoir Ordeal: The Story of My Life

Famous Romanian violinist, conductor and composer, George Enescu visited Toronto for the first time. He returned in 1938 and 1939. In 1940, he was invited to stay for the whole season, but WWII events in Romania prevented him from travelling. He would be back once more after the war.

Considerable time then passed before Romanians once again captured the attention of Canadians. In Montreal, 1976 – 50 years after Queen Marie’s visit – 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci stunned the world by scoring the first 10.00 in the history of Olympic gymnastics.

Nowadays, Romanians in Canada are a well-respected immigrant community. Second- or third-generation Romanian Canadians, such as Bianca Andreescu or Emma Raducanu, keep the legacy of three cultures (Romanian, British, Canadian) alive, blending them perfectly together, as so vividly illustrated by Queen Marie while visiting Toronto in 1926.

Acknowledgement: many thanks to Toronto’s Kelly Akerman, who turned my draft into a coherent narrative.


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