From beetles to Tim Hortons doughnuts, Canadians recall defining moments during their audiences with the Queen

By Patricia Treble

“I have been warned I may have Happy Birthday sung to me more than once or twice,” said Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas message. On April 21, she turns 90, an age reached by none of her royal predecessors. She’ll mark the day in typical queenly fashion—with work.

To honour the only monarch most of us have ever known, Maclean’s interviewed a diverse group of Canadians who have met her during 23 visits to this country. Their recollections reveal a Queen whose humour and warmth is often concealed behind a solemn public persona.

Team Canada captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall says Queen Elizabeth hit the mark 'like she'd done it a thousand times' (Kim Stallknecht/AFP/Getty Images)

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Vancouver, 2002

I’m not sure how the request came to me: “Would you participate in the Queen dropping the puck?” I have to be honest, after we won [the gold medal in women’s hockey at the Salt Lake City Olympics] in 2002, I think I had 10 days off that summer. It was the first whirlwind tour of my life. I was hesitant. It ended up being the most amazing experience.

We knew we were going to wear our medals and jerseys, so I wore black dress pants and a nice pair of shoes. You have to go through a criminal check. I remember a conference call about protocol. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until we stepped on the ice to huge applause. It was the pinnacle of hockey—the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey, the first time the men had won in 50 years—now not only did we get to celebrate, but the Queen was there.

She went down the line, shook my hand and looked at the medal. I’m not sure if she thought I was Ed [Jovanoski]’s wife—she had this moment when you can see a “Girls play hockey?” expression on her face. She did a double take and realized I had my own Olympic gold medal.

As for the puck drop, she was probably told to drop it on the blue dot, right at centre ice. I’m telling you, she hit that blue dot, centre, square, boom! It was like she’d done it a thousand times.

She was quite down to earth, compared to how she is perceived. One thing I remember is how young she looked. She was 77. I remember because that was the number of my jersey. She was stunning, for an older woman.

My favourite part was sitting with Prince Philip during the game. He didn’t know anything about hockey so he was asking me all sorts of questions. It was like he and I were good old chums. I remember going back to the hotel room that night and just feeling, “Wow.” I have that picture of the puck drop signed by every single person on the ice—except the Queen—in my office.

Schofield meets the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2013 (Dominic Lipinski/CP)

Lieutenant-Governor Vaughn Schofield of Saskatchewan

London, 2013

Each lieutenant-governor has the privilege of travelling to Buckingham Palace once in their term to meet with Her Majesty. When my husband and I stepped off the elevator, I almost stepped on her dog, which was lying right outside.

The Queen was extremely well-educated and knowledgeable about Saskatchewan. She knew all about the Roughriders being in contention for the Grey Cup that year, and that we were having an exceptionally good crop year. It was little things like that, that you don’t expect people in her position to know.

My mother loved really good fabric. When she passed away, she left me this beautiful light-blue brocade. I thought, “My goodness, that looks like something the Queen would wear.” So I had a suit made, and that’s what I wore. When I started talking to the Queen, it was almost like talking to my mother. The nervousness disappeared immediately; that’s how easily she can set you at ease.

The Queen shakes Rob Baker's hand while Paul Langlois looks on (Frank Gunn/AFP/Getty Images)

Rob Baker, The Tragically Hip

Toronto, 2002

The Golden Jubilee gala was sort of surreal, but quite enjoyable. It was a curious mix of music and performance, and really interesting to be sharing the stage with Oscar Peterson and Cirque du Soleil. Anything that’s out of the ordinary is very welcome. I was standing backstage when Oscar Peterson was wheeled up beside me. I thought, “Well, that’s the royalty in the house, right there.” My night was made.

We could see the Queen in the balcony and when we were playing, she leaned forward as if she was actually interested in what we were doing. We were flattered, or intrigued by it. I know we played Poets, Ahead By a Century, and I think Grace, Too.

I’m no royalist, but it’s an honour to be chosen to represent your country. It was an interesting sort of perk for the family; it kinda legitimizes what you do, in some strange way. We had these pictures up in the house of my parents and my grandfather with royalty. They would have loved this.

I don’t really recall speaking to her; it was succinct and polite. She extended her hand for a handshake the way Gene Simmons would; you took the fingertips, bowed politely and averted your gaze. [Prince] Philip spoke with either [bassist] Gord Sinclair or [guitarist] Paul Langlois. He said, “Don’t even bother trying to talk to me after the volume of you lot.”

I remember thinking what a hard job the Queen has. She sits through these things night after night. We do meet-and-greets after a show, but her whole life is one big meet-and-greet.

Turcotte in the winning circle with Queen Elizabeth II in 1970 (Doug Griffin/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Ron Turcotte

Manitoba Centennial Plate, Winnipeg, 1970

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was riding a filly called Fanfreluche, Northern Dancer’s daughter. She was the best horse in Canada. I had the trophy and was wearing a green maple leaf on white [silks] of owner Jean-Louis Lévesque.

I was the regular rider for Northern Dancer, and the Queen wanted to know all about him. So we had a lot to talk about. There was a little quiet moment. We had a wonderful chat. It was mostly racing, because she’s always been very heavy into racing. She has her own stable.

I remember my wife was there, and Monsieur Lévesque, who was very happy to meet the Queen. It’s quite an honour to meet royalty, being a little boy from Grand Falls, N.B. To rub shoulders with royalty is really something. I was really blessed.

Susan Sweeney Hermon presents flowers to the Queen in 1959, and her daughter, Julia, does the same in 1992 (Studio Jacques Photographie)

Susan Sweeney Hermon

Saguenay, Que., 1959

The media made a fuss over the fact that we were anglophones. This is the Saguenay just prior to the Quiet Revolution, and here I am, presenting flowers to the Queen. What they never knew was that we had an exchange in French. I was fluent.

She was very Queen-like. She was very composed, very gracious. From a nine-year-old kid’s perspective, she seemed so nice. After I presented the flowers, Philip said, “You did that very well.”

My mum and a friend made my pink dress. It’s in a cedar trunk. No one else has worn it—that is my Queen dress.

My daughter, Julia, did the same thing 33 years later, when she was nine, at the Museum of Civilization. This picture is up in my study. Beneath it is one of my daughter and the Queen.

Elvira Dulic shows the Queen a BlackBerry in 2010 (Fred Thornhill/AFP/Getty Images)

Elvira Dulic

Waterloo, Ont., 2010

I and two others at Research in Motion were asked to be on this production line created specifically for the royal tour to highlight how the BlackBerry is made. I grew up in Bosnia, then the war happened. I was in refugee camps before coming to Canada in 1997. I never thought I’d meet the Queen. I expected her to just watch what we do and move on. She seemed interested in who I was and what I did. She asked me where my accent is from, and how long I had worked at BlackBerry. I said, “It’s lovely to meet you. I’m so excited about this.” She said, “It’s very nice, dear. It’s nice to see how this is all made.” It was quite brief, but I will remember it forever.

Brynn Noble's beetle watching amuses Bishop Matthew and the Queen (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA/CP)

Todd Noble

Jasper, Alta., 2005

My wife called to say that [our daughter] Brynn had been pulled aside to give flowers to the Queen. I rushed down there to witness the whole thing. Brynn was about two at the time, with a small bouquet.

I was focused on looking at the Queen, then a buddy of mine hits my arm and goes, “Oh, oh,” and points to Brynn. She had dropped the bouquet and walked right into the Queen’s path.

I tried to get her, but security pushed me back right quick. Everyone was focused on Brynn. The Queen said something like, “Who might this little one belong to?” Brynn was lying on the ground like someone had shot her, pointing at a beetle as it scurried around. I remember Bishop Matthews bending over, going to help her up, then Brynn stood up and stuck her tongue out. Bishop Matthews started laughing, the Queen patted her head. Then they walked past her. To this day, it’s not uncommon for people to say, “You know, I still remember that day in 2005 . . . ” She gets it all the time.

Bishop Victoria Matthews

Jasper, Alta., 2005

It was quite late in the organization [of the royal visit] when the Queen indicated that, if she had the weekend off, she would like to go to Jasper, because there was this memory of her parents talking about their [1939] visit to Jasper. As sorry as I was at one level that she wasn’t at the cathedral in Edmonton, I thought it was a wonderful thing that she was at a little parish church in the Rocky Mountains with the local people, in a way that was quite a wonderful gift to them. The rector said, “There’s no way I’m preaching, so you, bishop, better come out and preach.” Fair enough. I suspected I was the first female bishop to preach for Her Majesty, but I just decided I wasn’t going to let that dominate my thoughts.

It was picture perfect, with sun and a very clear view of the Rocky Mountains all around us. I was just back from having a few months off with major surgery for breast cancer, and my hair had grown back in steel-grey curls; it had previously been blond and straight. I was barely recognizing myself. Rather than having lost my life to cancer, I was doing something I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams doing, which was preaching at a service where Her Majesty was in attendance.

It was after the service that the toddler, in pursuit of a beetle, came out and stole the show. It was absolutely wonderful. The Queen was laughing, I was laughing. She was just delightful. Security obviously was getting nervous because this wasn’t according to the plan, but you can’t go and grab a toddler. The mother was calling for her, and she was getting no attention back whatsoever. So we just stopped and let the girl do what little girls want to do, which was the right thing. The little girl was far more fascinated by this beetle than any reigning monarch. The little girl kind of moved on a bit, so, having really stopped and admired this beautiful child, we walked around her and the Queen did a bit of a walkabout at that point.

I don’t remember details of the conversation. A few days later, I said grace at one of the tour dinners. I think a member of the Canadian Forces came up and said the Queen spoke about my sermon at dinner. I thought, “It’s very sweet to speak about a sermon.” Maybe I won’t ask any more questions.

LeGrow (second from left) smiles after talking to the Queen (Reuters)

Chris LeGrow

Bonavista, N.L., 1997

The 500th anniversary of Cabot’s landing was a big deal for Newfoundland. I had done a lot of sailing prior to trying out for the Matthew [a replica ship.] I was 19. We spent five to six weeks at sea [sailing from England to Newfoundland] in very tight quarters. The ship was very unstable. We bobbed around like a cork. We broke through the fog at Bonavista and started to see yellow and green and red all along the rocks; it was the spectators’ rainjackets. We pulled up to the dock and jumped ashore. The Queen was already there, watching from the stage with Prince Philip, patron of the Matthew Society. She gave her speech, wearing a lime-green hat. The wind was blowing a gale, and how the heck it was staying on her head was an act of engineering.

They didn’t think she was going to come down to the ship, but no, no, no, she wants to meet the crew. We ran to the ship. I’m standing around, eating a chocolate-dipped doughnut from Tim Hortons, that I’d craved all the way across. Within 30 seconds, me not paying attention, I could feel her presence. I still had half the doughnut to go. I didn’t know what to do with it. I couldn’t throw it over my head behind me because every seagull in Bonavista would attack this thing. I had no pockets; we wore replica outfits. I couldn’t keep it in my hand, so I had to stuff it in my face, and start chewing it.

As she pulls up in front of me, I didn’t know what to do, so I stuck my hand out. “How’s it going?” “Oh quite well, thank you.” I had chocolate on my teeth. You can see me smiling, thinking, “I can’t believe I did that.” I think there was a little bit of Tim Hortons chocolate left on those black gloves.

PM Paul Martin and the Queen dressed for an official dinner (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Paul Martin

Edmonton, 2005

I saw her in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, both of which were celebrating their 100th anniversaries as provinces. She was full of life, an amazing woman. I’d never met her before the tour, and I’ve never met her since.

I remember the rain in Saskatchewan. It was one of those days where the rain was on and off. The Queen turned to get an umbrella, or lean over to get something, and she stumbled a bit. I sort of put my arm out and steadied her, and of course, as a result, ran into the tradition that one does not touch the Queen. But it’s pretty hard to steady somebody if you don’t touch them.

I had heard about the conversations, when the Queen meets with her prime minister to discuss issues. When I was in Regina, I met with her in her suite. We did not really discuss Canadian politics, but mostly the state of the world. She’s got a massive breadth of history, a huge insight into the world.

The only thing I remember about the [formal] dinner is they took official pictures of the four of us: the Queen, the duke, Sheila [Martin] and me. There was a lot of, “You stand here, you turn this way.” I remember the duke getting a little irritated at the time it was taking.

While I may have thought at that time, “79 was of a certain age,” I’m now 77 and so I’ve begun to realize how young it is. There’s no reason for me to believe that, at the age of 90, she isn’t exactly that same person, which should give all people my age a great deal of hope.

Rohmer(left) escorts Elizabeth on a walkabout among fellow D-Day veterans (Andy Clark/Reuters)

Lt.-Gen. Richard Rohmer (Hon.)

Juno Beach, France, 2004

It was the last big D-day celebration. By this time, the veterans of D-Day were becoming older. It was important that we have a significant event and I organized it. It took two years. There were 700 veterans there.

She arrived exactly on time. I’d met her before, so I was quite comfortable with her. The Duke of Edinburgh said, “My gracious general, you have more medals than I have,” which is true. We all served during the war.

For us veterans, it was really fantastic to have the Queen. It was just polite conversations about things that were happening. She was very well briefed by her staff. There wasn’t any social conversation, there wasn’t time for it.

She took the salute from the honour guard, laid a wreath, then we went to the pavilion. I helped her up the steps; they were a little shaky. I put my hand on her back and people thought it was terrible, but I had to protect her.

After the speeches was the walkabout. She always likes to do a walkabout among the veterans.

Clapperton, right of the Queen, organized a reception at Canada House (Leon Neal/WPA/Getty Images)

Lt.-Col. Kyle Clapperton, Calgary Highlanders

London, 2015

We went to Europe to commemorate the Battle of St. Julien, the first offensive action by Canadian soldiers in the First World War, a monumental loss of life. We kicked it off in London. At Canada House we had a reception with our colonel-in-chief, Her Majesty.

Quite honestly, it was such an honour that it was a blur. We had already set up the Highlanders on the stairs in the lobby. We led her over to the seat in the centre, sat down, snapped the photo and pushed everybody into the reception hall. She was so at home with the soldiers. She talked with everybody at each table, shook everybody’s hands. We had a brooch—white gold with diamond inlay in the form of the cap badge—delivered to Buckingham Palace with the hope that she would wear it. She did.

Hill (left), with the late Chief Wellington Staats and his wife, watch the Queen sign the Queen Anne Bible (Six Nations Public Library)

Tom Hill

Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, Six Nations Reserve, Ont., 1984

It was quite the day. Tens of thousands were there. It was the bicentennial of the Six Nations Reserve, and she was coming to the Royal Chapel of the Mohawks to sign the historic Queen Anne Bible.

The chapel shows our alliance to the British Crown. There are still people here who don’t recognize Canada [as a nation]. The Bible, of course, was given to us by Queen Anne. Any time royalty would arrive, they would sign the Bible.

I was the museum director at the Woodland Cultural Centre so they asked me to be part of the organizing committee. It was quite a task. We had to discuss things like, “If we’re going to have 10,000 people, how many toilets do we need?” Sometimes it was ridiculous and we broke down laughing, but it had to be looked after.

Some public-minded citizens raised some money to do some restoration on the chapel: the roof, some siding and the basement. We had to get it done before the Queen arrived. Moving inside the chapel was to give her a break from the crowds, and have her sign the Bible. I was to orchestrate that. So a couple of weeks before, I bought a Mont Blanc. But she carries her own pen. She said, “Thank you, very much, but oh, no, I use my own pen.” So I got to see inside her purse. Everyone asked what was in there, but I swore that I wouldn’t look.

The visit was very formal until she went into the chapel. I was surprised—I thought this formality would remain, but it did not. Philip was joking with her, she was laughing about the pen. They were at ease, comfortable. They weren’t in the spotlight.