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The Queen at the Olympics, 1976 (Twenty-Six Years Ago)

(published in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Friday, Octber 4, 2002)

This year the Queen is celebrating the 50th anniversary of her reign and is visiting many parts of Canada. Twenty-six years ago she visited Montreal for the 1976 Olympics and I have a special memory of the Sunday my wife Rosslyn and I spent with the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Andrew, when they went to church and then toured the Olympic Stadium and other Olympic sites.

As a Provincial minister in the Bourassa government at the time, I was invited to accompany the Queen for a day, during her official visit. Also present was Bud Drury, a Federal minister in Trudeau's cabinet. I have recorded the events as follows.

We arrive at the Royal Yacht "Britannia" at Bickerdike basin, in the port of Montreal, where hundreds of people are straining against the wire fence. We are met by the Vice-Admiral in charge of the Queen's household and by the personal staff, who are all relaxed and charming. We have coffee in the main lounge and Prince Philip enters, but goes immediately into a small room, where he apparently intends to practice reading the lesson, which he will read at church that morning.

The Queen's Personal Private Secretary, who seems to be the real person in charge, and who has seen the jostling, surging crowd outside, asks me if the canvas roof to the large white Cadillac convertible that the Queen is to ride in, should be put up or down. Not knowing the mood of the crowd, I advise that we should not risk leaving the Queen in the open and that the car should be covered. The Queen enters, we are all presented, she asks for "Philip", he appears and we all head down the gangway. The crowd lets out an enormous cheer and we proceed off in cars with the Cadillac in the lead, unfortunately with the roof in place.

At Ste Catherine and University Streets there is an even larger, cheering crowd and we enter the Anglican Cathedral for the service. Philip reads the lesson without a hitch and after the service the Queen meets the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Montreal and leaders of all other denominations, as well as some Anglican friends of mine, who are variously amused or annoyed at my presence in the Royal cortege. At this point, the Principal Private Secretary asks again, if I thought they should put down the convertible roof and I suggest they should. We leave the Church to joyous cheering from the crowd which has swelled even more, while RCMP, Surete du Quebec, and Montreal police are everywhere holding back the crowd and presumably standing on guard. There are even plainclothesmen, talking importantly into the large walkie-talkies of the era.

The Queen enters the open Cadillac and we are just about to ride off, when a tall, bearded man in flowing robes, sandals and long blond hair has somehow breached security and leans over towards the Queen and hands her flowers and a scroll-like object. The Cadillac takes off like a shot while its roof is snapped down and we all follow in haste. The bearded figure is bundled off, by all four branches of the gendarmerie, who contend vigorously over his inert body. It later turns out that he is a French Canadian monarchist, who has picked wild flowers for the Queen and has written a long poem of affection and fealty for the occasion.

As we travel through Montreal to the Olympic village, there are more consultations with the Private Secretary, the roof is put down for the rest of the day and we are met by waving, welcoming bystanders on the streets as we proceed along.

At the Olympic Village we have lunch with the athletes in their cafeteria and we all carry our own plates, except for the Queen. Prince Andrew, who is a slim teenager and dreadfully handsome (a young Barrymore), plays outrageously to the girl athletes present, all of whom seem to be completely infatuated. I find him a little vain and inane, but am clearly in a minority. The Queen, on the other hand, is witty, informed, interested in everyone and speaks fluent French.

We then visit the wrestling and swimming pavilions, followed by tea in a private cordoned-off area in the interior of the Olympic Stadium. At tea, the Queen takes a tiny tin box from her purse and puts two small sacrene pills into her cup, just as everyone used to do in those days. She is sitting with Prince Philip and Drury on her left and Andrew, Rosslyn and myself opposite. At her right elbow on a table is a telephone, which for no reason whatsoever, starts to ring loudly and without stop. The Queen unperturbed, carries on with the conversation, despite the incessant ringing. Finally, Prince Andrew says, "Why don't you pick it up and say, 'Hello'". The Queen says nothing, but looks at him with the most withering of laser-beam stares and Andrew is at last subdued and remains so, for the rest of the day. Later on the Queen is to say that Andrew is the handsome one and Charles the nice one. (She was very protective of Andrew, nevertheless, and wanted him at the Olympics, insisting that he get virtual head of state treatment at the various official banquets.)

We next enter the Olympic Stadium, where a soccer match is in progress. As we take our places high up in the VIP box, there is applause, which gains in magnitude. The Czechoslovakian referee, down on the field, sees who has arrived and immediately whistles the play to a stop. He meticulously forms the teams into two straight lines and then steps forward and salutes with a flourish worthy of a Royal Hussar of the old Austrian Empire. Play resumes and we realize that there are already breaches in the façade of East Bloc Communism.

Eventually, the caravan of cars heads back to the Royal Yacht, where we say good-bye.

Needless to say, I had become an admirer of the Queen, her dignity, sangfroid and charm and was soon after seen, picking wild flowers and composing long poems of homage.

William Tetley
Professor, McGill Law Faculty,
Minister of Financial Institutions in the Bourassa Cabinet of 1970 to 1976