That time Queen Elizabeth didn’t quite stop in Port Coquitlam

The welcome arch was erected at Third Avenue and Second Street. photo supplied PoCo Heritage Museum and Archives

About 2,000 royal well-wishers had gathered, hoping for a glimpse they wouldn’t get.

It was May 29, 1939 and, for the first time in Canadian history, the British monarchs were paying a visit. With world war appearing unavoidable, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were in the midst of a Canada-wide tour designed to solidify relations between the nations, and, in B.C., they were doing it by train.

Past the Pitt River Bridge in what is now Port Coquitlam but was then known was Westminster Junction, a crowd had formed.

“Some 2,000 people, from Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Maple Ridge and New Westminsters, crowded the Westminster junction platform for a glimpse of the royal couple,” according to an account published in Port Coquitlam: City of Rivers and Mountains.

At 9:15 a.m., precisely five minutes ahead of schedule, the royal train steamed off the bridge and past the junction and the crown crowd.

“Spectators hoped that the train, although not scheduled to stop, would pause for a few moments,” according to the book.

The train slowed. The crowd cheered.

However, “. . . although individuals inside the train could clearly be seen, there was no sign of the King or Queen.”

Two days later, many of those spectators would catch up with the train.

With some financial assistance from Central School teacher Ada Irvine, a crowd of young students boarded a train from Westminster Junction bound for New Westminster.

In her book, The History of Port Coquitlam, Edith Chambers describes a train so completely wrapped with crepe paper decorations made by young high school students that holes had to be cut at the doors and windows.

The monarchs chat with Prime Minister Mackenzie King at a temporary platform on East Columbia Street in New Westminster. photo supplied New Westminster Archives

Arrangements were made for an engine and three coaches to take everyone to New Westminster. “The three coaches proved far too few so three more were added,” Chambers writes.

Band master Charles Ayling, who had previously led the Canadian Legion Band during May Day festivities in Port Coquitlam, led a parade of young people in New Westminster, according to Chambers.

“Ironically, some of the boys who played that day became names to remember on the Cenotaph,” Chambers writes.

Special thanks to Poco Heritage Museum and Archives curator Alex Code for his help with the research.

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