THE BLOG

A Day Like No Other: Recalling the Coronation of a Queen

06/05/2013 10:33 EDT | Updated 08/04/2013 05:12 EDT

The day the Queen was crowned was like none other. Sixty years on, it is a vivid memory for millions. I was just a young boy then as I looked in awe at the flickering black and white images of the coronation on my grandparents' television screen.

"What a remarkable age we live in," my grandfather said. How right he was!

Hard as it may seem today, television was in its infancy back in 1953. And it was the Queen herself who overruled British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to allow the coronation broadcasts. Given today's always-connected culture of Facebook and Twitter, it seems that Her Majesty made the right choice.

As a former television broadcaster, I can tell you that the coronation was the big one. This ancient ceremony was the first major international event ever seen on TV, and it brought together nearly 750 commentators broadcasting in 39 languages to over 20 million viewers.

Of course, there were no live overseas broadcasts back then. To reach Canadians, Royal Air Force jet fighters relayed three lots of film reels from London to the CBC--on the first non-stop flights between Britain and Canada.

It was a day of rare enchantment, bringing a wave of optimism after the war into a still weary Commonwealth and world. First was the exciting news that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had scaled Mount Everest, which the media dubbed as "a coronation gift for the Queen."

The mood was exultant. All eyes were on London, where a cavalcade wound its way towards Westminster Abbey, the scene of coronations for nearly 1,000 years.

All this was refreshed in my mind just this week, when I joined yesterday with Ontarians--some of whom had been in London on June 2, 1953!--to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's crowning.

Together, we watched portions of the National Film Board's documentary Canada at the Coronation and heard Sir Laurence Olivier narrate the film A Queen is Crowned.

Seeing all that grandeur was moving, and there was hardly a dry eye when the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joined in singing the glorious songs of that day. We watched as the young Queen arrived wearing a splendid white silk dress, with a four-leaf clover secretly sewn into the left side where her hand would rest.

Anointed, blessed, and consecrated, Her Majesty received the symbolic regalia, swore the Coronation Oath, and was crowned with the St Edward's Crown. At that pivotal moment, the crowds shouted, "God save the Queen!"

Sixty years ago, Coronation Day was celebrated around the world. In Canada, it was declared a national holiday, marked with parades, concerts, and fireworks. Even in wartime Korea, Canadian soldiers marked the day by firing red, white, and blue-coloured smoke shells at a thoroughly confused enemy, followed by toasts to the Queen with rations of rum!

Meanwhile at Buckingham Palace, a celebratory meal was served. Cecil Beaton took his classic photographs. And the Royal Family waved from the balcony. In a speech broadcast that evening, the Queen summed up the meaning of that day with these wonderful words:

I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Through all my life and with all my heart, I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.

Sixty years on, our remarkable Queen continues to keep that promise. By celebrating Her Majesty on this day, we honour her promise and the system of government that we all enjoy.

The Queen of Canada in Ontario