History

The Monarch and the Mounties

Queen Elizabeth II’s famous horse, Burmese, is a symbol of the enduring ties between the Crown and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

  • Feb 06, 2022
  • 952 words
  • 4 minutes
Bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II on her horse, Burmese, by Susan Velder. (Photo: Wascana Centre)
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Those of us who were on the Royal Tour in the spring of 2005 to celebrate the centenaries of Saskatchewan and Alberta remember the rain, the whipping wind and the plunging temperatures — but also the “stiff upper lip” of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen and Prince Philip were coming first to Regina for the unveiling of a statue on the grounds of the legislature to honour Burmese, the Queen’s horse that she rode for 18 consecutive years. Burmese, a filly, was not only the Queen’s favourite horse, but a local celebrity, having been bred at Maple Creek, west of the provincial capital. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had given the horse as a gift to the Queen in 1969.

The Mounties, of course, wanted the outdoor event to go off without a hitch. They had even done a dry run with the horse-drawn landau that would take the Royal couple to the Queen Elizabeth Gardens by the Legislative Building, where the new gardens and the magnificent sculpture by Susan Velder was waiting to be unveiled. Knowing rain was certainly in the forecast, they did the dry run with the top up for protection.

The Queen would have none of it. “No, no, no,” she told the Mounties when she and Philip arrived at the start of the procession. “Top down.”

The people, many of them schoolchildren waving tiny flags, had come expecting to see their Queen and see her they would. She would, as always, do her duty.

At 79, in 2005, she was still very much the 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth who stood in front of a crowd in South Africa and announced, “It is very simple. I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it is long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

The Queen riding her famous horse “Burmese,” given to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1969, at Buckingham Palace. Burmese was ridden by the Queen at every Trooping the Colour ceremony from 1969 to 1986. (Photo: Leonard Bentley, CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Five years later she was Queen; on February 6 of this year, she marked 70 years as Monarch.

The day after the unveiling of the statue to her beloved Burmese, she was off to the RCMP training centre where she and Philip would lay wreathes to honour the 207 men and women who had been killed in the world’s most-recognizable policing uniform. Some 600 veterans, officers and cadets were assembled on the parade grounds to be inspected by the Royal Couple, the inspections often including long conversations on where they were from and how long they had served or expected to serve.

The Royal couple also met privately with the families of four young Mounties who had been slain in early March just outside of Mayerthorpe in northwest Alberta. The shooter then took his own life. 

The Royals and families gathered in the little white chapel just off the parade grounds to honour the memories of Leo Johnston, 32, Anthony Gordon, 28, Peter Schiemann, 25, and Brock Myrol, 29. Myrol had only been on the job two weeks; he and family had been here only a short time earlier to celebrate, now to mourn.

Kim Gordon was pregnant with a child due in July and had already decided to name the arriving boy Anthony, after her lost husband. Anthony had been called in on his day off. As she recounted, “When they called him in, he did not grumble. He simply said, ‘I’m on my way.’ ”

Duty — the permanent bond between the English Monarchy and the Canadian Mounties.

It is a heartfelt connection that stretches back to the 19th century, when Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier approved a plan to send 25 members of the North-West Mounted Police and 28 horses to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in England. Commissioner Lawrence Herchmer was so determined that his men look sharp that he ordered up a new uniform that combined a Stetson hat with red serge, thereby guaranteeing the Canadian “Mounties” instant recognition forever after.

It was King Edward VII who granted the prefix “Royal” in 1904 in recognition of their service in the Boer War, from which they returned with the equally recognizable “Strathcona” boots. 

But no Monarch so loved Mounties — and, by extension, horses — more than Elizabeth II. They attended all her formal celebrations; she never failed to pay special attention to them during reviews on any Royal Tour of Canada, the 2005 visit being her 21st.

In 1973, on the 100th anniversary of the force’s founding, she had also been in Regina, at this same parade ground. It was a time in which the RCMP was undergoing considerable criticism for its treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and its wiretapping operations concerning university activists. She would hear no criticism of her beloved Mounties. 

“I particularly value your close association with my family,” Queen Elizabeth told the gathering. “The force has been represented at every coronation since King Edward VII’s, and I well remember the splendid detachment at my own coronation.”

She would also never forget Burmese, the coal black filly from Saskatchewan. She had, after all, been aboard Burmese that alarming day in 1986 when, at a Trooping the Colour ceremony along the mall, a disturbed young man ran up and fired six blank shots at her. Both horse and rider flinched, but both quickly recovered and carried on.

Both simply doing their duty.

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This story is from the May/June 2022 Issue

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