History

A history of heartfelt gifts from Canada to its Queen

Some of these gifts are undeniably odd, but they have all been chosen carefully to represent or to engage the Queen in the full panorama of the Canadian story

  • Mar 14, 2022
  • 694 words
  • 3 minutes
Queen Elizabeth, Lester Pearson, the Penguin Expand Image

From the 1940s onwards and even before she was queen, Her Majesty Elizabeth II has been graciously accepting gifts from the people of Canada, everything from fashion to food, wedding silver to wildlife and farm animals to fine art. Some of those gifts are undeniably odd, but they have all been chosen carefully to represent or to engage the Queen in the full panorama of the Canadian story

1947: Finery and fine food

Canada and Britain were allies just emerging from the hardships of the Second World War, and food was still short in Britain. When Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, Canada sent a conventional gift of antique silver. As a country whose economy was founded on fur and the fisheries, however, Canada also dispatched a warm mink coat and 200 lobsters for the wedding festivities.

1952: Five swans a-swimming

There are now upwards of 46,000 swans in the wild. (Photo: Keven Law, CC BY-SA 2.0)
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By the 1930s, the trumpeter swan had been hunted almost to extinction. With fewer than 70 birds remaining in the wild, a British Columbian homesteader, Ralph Edwards, began feeding a small colony of swans to help them survive the winter. He and his daughter later helped capture five birds as a coronation gift for Queen Elizabeth. The flock thrived in England, as did his conservation efforts at home. There are now upwards of 46,000 swans in the wild, and Edwards received the Order of Canada in 1972.

1958: Tall treasure

Carved by Kwakiutl artist Mungo Martin from a single piece of 500-year-old western redcedar, the totem stands 30 metres high. (Photo: © Peter S, CC BY-SA 2.0) 
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A grand old totem pole has been looking out of place in Windsor Great Park, England, for 62 years now. British Columbia was founded in 1858, and a century later the province presented this 12,000-kilogram memorial of Canada’s First Peoples to Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter. Carved by Kwakiutl artist Mungo Martin from a single piece of 500-year-old western red cedar, the totem stands 30 metres high.

1959: Ancient artifact

The gift of a fossil represents the extreme depth of Canadian history. A mere 515 years have passed since John Cabot arrived on the shores of Newfoundland on a voyage under the commission of Henry VII. A duck-billed, grass-eating dinosaur was roaming the plains of western Canada some 86 million years earlier. The City of Drumheller, Alta., presented a fossilized bone, part of the humerus (upper arm) of a hadrosaur, to Queen Elizabeth II as a token of the many dinosaurs discovered in the area since 1884.

1964: A Canadian penguin

As an illustration of Canada’s imaginative technology, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson presented the Queen with a Canadian-made amphibious vehicle called the “Penguin.” The designer, John Smeaton, demonstrated it in action, but Prince Philip politely declined to try it out for himself, saying simply, “Thank you very much.” Just 800 of these vehicles were built before the company filed for bankruptcy. Today, they are a collector’s item.

1970: Overdue rent

The Hudson’s Bay Company incorporated in 1670 in order to exploit Canada’s wealth in furs. King Charles II awarded the company a commercial monopoly in northwestern North America in return, according to the founding charter, for the periodic payment of rent — two elk and two beaver. The monarchy collected on the overdue rent in 1970, when two live beavers were presented to the Queen. The beavers’ final destination was the London Zoo.

2002: Wild window

The Golden Jubilee Window, crafted by Victoria-based artisans Edward Schaefer and Thomas Mercer, features images of the province’s wildlife. (Photo: B.C. Legislative Assembly)
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This radiant gift of stained glass has a permanent home in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. The Golden Jubilee Window, crafted by Victoriabased artisans Edward Schaefer and Thomas Mercer, features images of the province’s wildlife, including Pacific salmon, an eagle, moose, bear, mountain lion, sea otter and orca. In honour of the Queen, it also displays the Canadian Royal Standard, flown only when the monarch is in Canada, all set in a decorative motif of sea and forest.

2010: Most valuable player

The Queen saw her first hockey match in Toronto in 1951. (Photo: Royal Collection Trust)
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Hockey is Canada’s game, and it was on everyone’s mind in 2010, when the Canadian women’s team won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in British Columbia. The Queen is a longtime fan. She saw her first hockey match in Toronto in 1951, dropped the puck for a Vancouver game in 2002 and in 2010 was given her own jersey, which went on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

This story is from the May/June 2022 Issue

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