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Memory Lane: A history of royal visits to the Nickel City

British Royals have been visiting Greater Sudbury since the Second World War; we want to share your memories of those special occasions

An enthusiastic crowd of 5,000 gathered to greet the impressive Hudson steam locomotive and 12 royal blue cars when it stopped at the Capreol train station for servicing on June 5, 1939.

Well-wishers and the curious were hoping for a glimpse of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. It was the first time a reigning monarch was visiting Canada.

The Royal couple was not scheduled to make an appearance in the town following their visit to Sudbury. But the outpouring of patriotism warmed their hearts, and the decision was made to disembark from the train for a brief visit.

Earlier in the day, the King and Queen, accompanied by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, were welcomed with a parade and at a ceremony at Sudbury's Athletic Park — it was later renamed Queen's Athletic Field in honour of the Royal visit.

In the declining years of the British Empire, happy school children waved stick Union Jack flags and sang “Rule Britannia!” and “God Save the King.”

The 1939 Royal tour was a public relations coup that cemented Canadian support for Britain just three months before the first shot of the Second World War was fired. After 1931, Canada had control of its own foreign policy. Britain’s declaration of war didn't automatically commit Canada, as had been the case in the First World War. 

The Royal tour started May 17, with stops in all nine Canadian provinces and Newfoundland, with a few days in the United States, where George VI met with American president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The tour ended June 15 in Halifax.

In Sudbury, the Royals requested a visit underground at Frood Mine, at the time the largest nickel mine in the world. 

The New York Times reported: "SUDBURY, Ont., June 5: Two thousand, eight hundred feet below the earth's surface today King George VI in overalls and Queen Elizabeth with a safety helmet on her head and a flashlight in her hand, saw miners hacking and drilling out the ore from the bedrock of Canada." The Royals took home small pieces of ore as souvenirs.

The Queen, later the Queen Mother, was the first woman to go underground at any Inco mine.

It was against the law for women to work in an Ontario mine from 1890 to 1978. 

According to Sudburymuseums.ca, "Because of the Queen's visit to the mine, operations underground were ceased for a few months as people of the time believed that it was bad luck to bring a woman underground."

Twenty years later, in July 1959, their daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, while on a 45-day cross-country tour, would also visit Frood Mine, descending to the 1,000-foot level for a tour, in recognition of its contribution to the war. The mine supplied 40 per cent of the nickel used to make armaments.

The Royals would return to Sudbury in October 1984 to open Science North.

In October 1991, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, visited Sudbury and toured the science centre.

The Prince was invited to launch a new phase of Inco’s sulphur dioxide abatement program, “tapping” one of two oxygen flash furnaces, part of a $600-million facility to cut sulphur emissions.

Diana, of course, attracted the most attention. She officially opened the Daffodil Terrace, the residence for cancer patients being treated at the regional cancer treatment centre. 

The day after the official visit, the couple's children, nine-year-old Prince William and seven-year-old Prince Harry, were given a private tour of the science centre.

Sudbury.com readers are invited to share their memories of Royal visits to Sudbury.

Post your stories and photographs in the comments below, on Facebook, or email them to editor@sudbury.com. If you do comment, be aware we may use your name and story in the follow-up piece Dec. 15.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. She has a special interest in history. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program