"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Friday, March 3, 2017

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 42: The Queen

Bishop’s next letter to Grace is dated 19 July “home again.” She reported that they had got back to Petrópolis on the 17th and she found Grace’s letter of 5 July waiting for her at the post office. In response, Bishop wrote a newsy letter and sent some more recipes; but before getting to all of this, I want to comment on something Bishop scrawled at the top of the page (clearly an afterthought, but something of historic interest): “Did you see the Queen?”

In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II made a visit to Canada, her first extended tour as the reigning monarch; indeed, it remains the longest state visit/tour by any British monarch. She and Prince Phillip arrived on 18 June and stayed until 1 August. They visited every province and territory and opened the St. Lawrence Seaway on 26 June, with President Dwight Eisenhower (for great news footage of this event, click here).

Bishop kept up not only with the news from the US, she also clearly made a point to learn what was happening in Canada, this visit being one of the most significant events for the country in its recent history. You can see more footage (silent) of this visit here and here.

The royal couple arrived in Nova Scotia on 31 July, the last leg of their visit. They toured around a bit, were guests at a state dinner and left the next day. While in Halifax they stayed at the Nova Scotian Hotel, a place where Bishop herself had stayed in 1946.
Nova Scotia artist Earl Bailley in Lunenburg, N.S., NS Archives)

Grace was in Nova Scotia at that time, so perhaps she was able to travel to Halifax or the South Shore to catch a glimpse of the beautiful young queen and her attractive consort.

Back to the letter proper, Bishop begins with palpable relief that she had finally heard from Grace, declaring “now I am sure your other letters got lost,” reiterating that there has been “much trouble with lost letters the past year.” Her intention was just to send a quick note, “just to say I did hear,” but the letter got away from her a bit and ended up being longer than she clearly intended.

In the first paragraph, Bishop dispatches several things in quick succession. The first order of business related to Bishop’s Aunt Mary’s house, which her niece noted “sounds quite glamorous, from the advertisement!” Grace had obvious enclosed some sort of clipping in her letter. Most likely, Mary and John Ross had bought a new house in Montreal. Next, Bishop confirms that she would “like to see the book about the old sailing ships,” something else Grace had mentioned. Of course, no further description is given, though it is a book that must have appeared that year, and they must have discussed it before, because Bishop tells her aunt, “I’ve seen another review of it.” Next, Bishop informs Grace that she had received “a very nice fan letter from someone named Mrs. Winfield L. Corbett, from Wakefield, Mass.” It appears that Mrs. Corbett had poor handwriting, too, as Bishop had trouble deciphering her first name, “looks like Lalia, to me.” Bishop mentions her to Grace because “she’s apparently from N.S.” Mrs. Corbett had enclosed “clippings from the Dalhousie Review.” Bishop asks, “Does that name mean anything to you?”

Lalia Corbett is in the US Census for 1940, which indicates she is from “Canada.” Nova Scotia being a small place, it is entirely possible that Grace knew of or knew this person, Corbett being a Great Village and area name. Even if not directly, there are very few degrees of separation between people in the province, even when they ventured off to the “Boston States” to live and raise their families.

Having dispatched the preliminaries, Bishop shares some recipes with her aunt. The next post will share them with you.

Ed. Note: Permit me a slight indulgence — The only Royal I ever met was Prince Andrew, during a visit he made to the Maritimes in late June 1985. Andrew was 25 at the time, he being born in 1960, a year before me. I first encountered him in Fredericton when a friend and I joined thousands of others for a walk about he did that morning. Each clutching a single red rose (thorns removed), we positioned ourselves in a good spot and lo and behold, he stopped to speak and receive the roses. Believe it or not, I asked him if I could give him a kiss (by which I mean a peck on the cheek). He laughed and said, “If you did that, all hell would break loose.” He moved on. His walkabout took him along Queen St. to Officers’ Square, where there was a choking throng of people. My friend and I, after buying yet another rose each, bypassed that sea of humanity because we knew he would eventually reach the bank of the Saint John River, where a small boat would take him on a tour. In the spot just before the wharf, there was not one soul. I planted myself again (my friend had got diverted talking with someone she knew) and lo and behold, again, he appeared, almost alone, and walked right up to me. “How many roses must I give you to get a kiss?” Laughing again, he said, “Quite a few.” He shook my hand and headed off. My entire adventure was observed by several of the journalists who were covering the tour. My little escapade made several papers (I have the clippings), including, I am told, a British paper (I do not have that clipping).
(Prince Andrew, between mayor
and woman in navy, Fredericton, N.B.)
I returned to Nova Scotia later that same day. Prince Andrew’s next stop was NS, including a visit to Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal. With my sister and another friend in tow, I went to yet another royal event, attended this time by hundreds of people. It was not difficult to put myself in his way again. He actually recognized me and laughed out loud when I said, “You said it would take quite a few roses to let me give you a kiss. Is this enough?” as I handed him a dozen roses. He took the roses, shook my hand, and quickly said that it was nice to see me again. Then he was herded along by all the local bigwigs. Not one journalist observed this exchange.
(So many roses. No kiss. Fort Anne Historic Site,
Annapolis Royal, N.S.)
When you are twenty-four, you are susceptible to the romance of royalty. When I think about it now, I feel embarrassed, remembering such a girlish fancy, especially for a prince who has proved himself to have questionable beliefs as he aged. Ah, such is youth. I actually wrote a letter to Prince Andrew to tell him who I was, a serious graduate student not given to such behaviour. I received an actual letter (not a form response) from someone on his staff, my one and only epistle from Buckingham Palace!

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