The Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa is celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee with an exhibit showcasing the Queen’s long and storied role in Canada’s history.
Exhibition curator Dr. Xavier Gelinas noted at the press preview that Queen Elizabeth is not the Queen of England alone. Rather, she is our Queen and head of the Commonwealth, with its two billion people in 54 countries.
Titled “A Queen and Her Country,” the exhibit is organized from a uniquely Canadian perspective and invites visitors to learn about the young princess who officially became Canada’s Queen when she was just 27 years old.
From Princess to Queen
Queen Elizabeth was born in 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York. No one expected that her uncle, Edward VIII, would give up the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American woman. And, according to museum notes, Elizabeth “was not considered heiress apparent as long as it was possible for her parents to produce a son, who would usurp her position.”
Titled ‘A Queen and Her Country,’ the exhibit is organized from a uniquely Canadian perspective.
Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya when she learned about her father’s death—he was 56 and she only 25. She flew back to Britain as Queen and was greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other officials.
Her coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Since then, she has proved true to her pledge: “I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
Her reign of 60 years is the second longest of any British monarch, leaving Queen Victoria’s 63 years and 216 days as the longest reign to date.
Queen of Canada
The exhibition concentrates on Elizabeth as Queen of Canada, and showcases scrapbooks and stamps, plates and spoons that were collected by avid Canadian fans of the monarchy. Also on display is the beautiful Maple Leaf of Canada Dress made for the Queen to wear at a state banquet in Ottawa in October 1957.
The exhibition is organized into various zones, from Zone 1 which covers Elizabeth’s birth and early years to Zone 5 which focuses on her seven trips to Canada between 1990 and today.
Gelinas states in “A word from the Curator” that the museum “as a cultural institution, obviously does not take part in debates on current affairs. Our perspective is historical.”
The exhibition “does not shy away from less happy moments such as ‘Truncheon Saturday’ in Quebec, during the Queen’s October 1964 visit,” Gelinas wrote.
“While remaining faithful to historical objectivity, the exhibition expresses respect and affection towards a queen who has remained, for 60 years, unfailing in both her dignity and her dedication.”
For me, as a descendant of United Empire Loyalists and whose great, great aunt Zula Hallett came to Marysville, New Brunswick, from the U.S. after the War of Independence—along with an oxcart of goods and chattels including a set of Chelsea ware she still had in the 1960s—this could have been an interesting exhibition.
But I found there to be a scarcity of artifacts, and the much-lauded Queen’s Beasts, each standing two metres high, rather garish as they were painted with gaudy colours for our centennial celebrations in 1967. (Previously, only the shields had been painted on the plaster statues for the Queen’s coronation in 1953).
The exhibit will be on display until January 6, 2013. For more information, visit www.civilization.ca.
Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among many others.
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