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King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at U of T
Photo Courtesy of U of T Archives
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Regal Reception

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth enjoy a visit to U of T in May 1939

In April, royal-watchers will be celebrating the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey. Seventy-two years ago, Torontonians were enraptured by a more minor royal event: the arrival of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at U of T for an elegant luncheon in Hart House’s Great Hall. The couple was visiting Canada, travelling from one end of the Dominion to the other.

Five hundred guests attended the luncheon, including U of T president Henry John Cody and his wife, Barbara, Hart House warden J.B. Bickersteth and Toronto mayor Ralph Day. Hart House kitchen staff prepared the meal, which included grain-fed chicken sautéed with mushrooms, caramelized yams and petits fours.

Despite the King’s fondness for moselle, the event was alcohol-free. Although U of T officials were willing to override their alcohol prohibition for the royals, the King respectfully drank soda water brought by his staff.

Prior to the meal, Queen Elizabeth attended another event at the university: as colonel-in-chief of the Toronto Scottish Regiment, she presented new colours to the unit on back campus.

After the luncheon, the King and Queen emerged from Hart House to cheers from 12,000 gathered admirers. In the warden’s report, he remarked, “Their Majesties drove away leaving behind them lovely memories of an unforgettable day in the history of Hart House.”

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  1. 5 Responses to “ Regal Reception ”

  2. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I'm astonished to read that the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the university in 1939 is to be considered a "minor royal event" when compared to the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton in April. Whether one is a monarchist or not, it should be obvious that a visit by the then reigning monarch was a very major event -- considerably more so than watching the marriage, via television, of a prince who is not even the heir to the throne. Maybe your writer should take a course in constitutional history.

    Janice Yalden
    BA 1952 Victoria
    Professor Emerita and former Dean of Arts
    Carleton University

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I was pleased to read about the visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Hart House in May 1939. I am writing a family history about my father, Dr. Walter Ruggles Campbell, who was present at Hart House that day – although I don’t know if he was invited to the luncheon or whether he stood outside with the crowd of well-wishers. He was on the staff of the Faculty of Medicine at the time, and, as a hobby photographer, no doubt wanted to take some pictures of this historic event. He took one I especially like of Queen Elizabeth.

    Ann Ward
    BScN 1974

  4. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I agree with Janice Yalden that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit across Canada by train in 1939 was a very major event. It was the first by a reigning British Monarch. It was vital to shore up support for Britain’s inevitable war against Nazi Germany’s intent to conquer the world.

    Dr. Elizabeth Oliver Malone
    MD 1957
    Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

  5. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    The 1939 royal tour of Canada by our then reigning sovereign, King George VI, and his consort Queen Elizabeth did not only outrank the recent tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge constitutionally, as Janice Yalden rightly noted. The 1939 tour had world importance, because it demonstrated that Canada would solidly support Britain in any coming conflict with Nazi Germany.

    After dedicating the national war memorial in Ottawa, King George staged one of the first royal walkabouts among the assembled Canadian veterans. At first his security staff were concerned, but they soon realized that, as he himself said afterwards, he had never been safer in his life. And one Scots Canadian veteran summed the significance up perfectly when he exclaimed, "Ay mon, if Hitler could see this!"

    William Cooke
    BA 1968 Trinity

  6. Bruce Matthews says:

    Albert Matthews, 16th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario & his wife Mrs. Margaret Matthews were also guests at the luncheon, embracing the role of hosting the reigning Canadian monarch, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I as most revered guests of the Province of Ontario. It was the first time a living and currently ruling monarch visited the Dominion of Canada. After the luncheon, the Royal couple attended the King's Plate (horse race) at the Woodbine track and departed from Toronto later in the day via the Royal train.