Canada

This Week in History, 1890: Vancouver experiences its first royal visit

The Duke of Connaught was the seventh of Queen Victoria’s nine children.

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Queen Victoria never made it to Vancouver during her 64-year reign. But her son did on May 22, 1890, the first visit to the city by a member of Britain’s Royal Family.

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It was brief, lasting less than a day. But the masses were thrilled, and were anxious to catch a glimpse of royalty.

Really anxious.

“Through the overzealousness or stupidity of some individuals, the gate at the south end of the (wharf) was closed, evidently with the design of keeping out the crowd,” the Daily News-Advertiser reported May 23.

“The crowd, however, resented the effort to debar them, and smashing the gate in, crowded onto the pier.”

Prince Arthur was popularly known by his title, the Duke of Connaught. He arrived with his wife, daughter and entourage after sailing across the Pacific from Yokohama, Japan aboard the Canadian Pacific steamship, the SS Abyssinia.

The Royals spent May 21 in Victoria and sailed early the next morning to Vancouver. The SS Abyssinia rounded Brockton Point around 9:45 a.m. and docked at the CP wharf, where a band struck up God Save The Queen.

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Mayor David Oppenheimer gave a speech about how Vancouverites “remain Your Royal Highnesses’ most faithful and obedient servants.” The Duke replied with his own speech, which noted how he was “perfectly astounded to see the size of the buildings” in such a young city.

“He hoped that every prosperity would rest with the City of Vancouver, and the great province of which it was one of the principal towns,” the News-Advertiser reported.

Then the Duke and co. were off to lunch, rest and dinner at the Hotel Vancouver. They slept aboard a special CPR train that left the following morning for a cross-Canada trip, en route back to England.

Duke of Connaught, circa 1912. Downey/Vancouver Archives AM1376-: CVA 130-6
Duke of Connaught, circa 1912. Downey/Vancouver Archives AM1376-: CVA 130-6 jpg

There were two private cars on the train, the Saskatchewan and the Matapedia, along with a baggage car. Two members of the press had arrived from back east to write about Connaught’s trip across the Dominion, but were told by Connaught’s assistant Sir John McNeill that it was “the Queen’s train,” and that “nobody, unless those absolutely necessary, would be allowed to go on it.”

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So the press had to wait for the regular CPR passenger train and catch up. The Vancouver World had gushed over the royal visit, but on May 23 sarcastically noted that “the Queen’s train, as Sir John called it, is awfully exclusive, and you cawn’t travel on it, you know.”

Prince Arthur was the seventh of Victoria’s nine children. He was born in Buckingham Palace on May 1, 1850, and spent many years in the British military, much of it in India.

He first came to Canada in 1869-70, when he served as a military officer in Montreal and helped quell one of the Fenian raids on Canada by Irish republic sympathizers in the United States.

He made a second trip to Vancouver in March, 1906, and in 1911 was named Canada’s Governor-General.

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In September 1912, he made a third trip to Vancouver, a three-day affair where thousands greeted him at the new Vancouver Court House (now the Vancouver Art Gallery) and at the opening of the Cambie Bridge, which was named the Connaught Bridge in his honour.

Various arches were set up to greet him around the city, including one from a forestry group that set up the original Lumbermen’s Arch on Pender Street near Hamilton. After his visit it was moved to Stanley Park, where it lasted until it rotted and was burned in 1947. The current arch was put up in 1952.

The Duke of Connaught was Governor-General until 1916, when he returned to England. His name lives on in local fixtures like Connaught Park and the British Columbia regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), the military unit associated with the Beatty Street Armoury downtown.

Another Canadian regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was named after his daughter.

The Duke was married to Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, and the couple had three children. But according to Wikipedia, he also carried on a long-term “liaison” with Leonie, Lady Leslie, the sister of Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie. He died on Jan. 16, 1942, at the age of 91.

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Prince Arthur of Connaught, September 1912. Stuart Thomson/Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-295
Prince Arthur of Connaught, September 1912. Stuart Thomson/Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-295 Photo by Stuart Thomson /jpg
Reception to H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught in front of Vancouver Court House, Georgia Street, Sept. 12, 1912. Vancouver Archives AM1376-: CVA 189-1
Reception to H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught in front of Vancouver Court House, Georgia Street, Sept. 12, 1912. Vancouver Archives AM1376-: CVA 189-1 jpg
Illuminated arches on Hastings Street for visit of Governor General the Duke of Connaught, Sept. 19, 1912. Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 1018
Illuminated arches on Hastings Street for visit of Governor General the Duke of Connaught, Sept. 19, 1912. Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 1018 jpg
Vancouver Court House illuminated at night for Governor-General’s visit in September 1912. Stuart Thomson/Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-293
Vancouver Court House illuminated at night for Governor-General’s visit in September 1912. Stuart Thomson/Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-293 Photo by Stuart Thomson /jpg
H.R.H. Duke of Connaught inspecting Guard of Honour at Courthouse, 18.9.12. Stuart Thomson/Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-310
H.R.H. Duke of Connaught inspecting Guard of Honour at Courthouse, 18.9.12. Stuart Thomson/Vancouver Archives AM1535-: CVA 99-310 jpg
Canadian Pacific railway station at the foot of Granville decorated for a visit by the Duke of Connaught. The listing in the Vancouver Archives says says 1900 but this is probably from the Duke’s 1906 visit, or even 1912: a banner reads “God Save The King,” but in 1900 Queen Victoria was still alive and it would have read “God Save The Queen.” British Columbia Sugar Refining Company, Limited/Vancouver Archives AM1592-1-S2-F05-: 2011-092.0295
Canadian Pacific railway station at the foot of Granville decorated for a visit by the Duke of Connaught. The listing in the Vancouver Archives says says 1900 but this is probably from the Duke’s 1906 visit, or even 1912: a banner reads “God Save The King,” but in 1900 Queen Victoria was still alive and it would have read “God Save The Queen.” British Columbia Sugar Refining Company, Limited/Vancouver Archives AM1592-1-S2-F05-: 2011-092.0295 jpg
Her Majesty Queen Victoria, circa 1887-88. Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-695
Her Majesty Queen Victoria, circa 1887-88. Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-695 jpg
C.P.R. Station and Dock, Vancouver, 1889 or 1890. Bailey and Neelands/Vancouver Archives AM1376-: CVA 1376-375.17
C.P.R. Station and Dock, Vancouver, 1889 or 1890. Bailey and Neelands/Vancouver Archives AM1376-: CVA 1376-375.17
The front page of the Sept. 18, 1912 Vancouver World, welcoming the Duke of Connaught to the city. The Duke was then Governor-General.
The front page of the Sept. 18, 1912 Vancouver World, welcoming the Duke of Connaught to the city. The Duke was then Governor-General.

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