Whether you’re waking up at 3am to watch the broadcast live, or couldn’t care less about the whole darn thing, there’s no denying that the coronation of a British monarch is an event steeped in history. Like many museums across the country, the BV Museum’s collection contains items marking coronations that took place in the last century, including photographs, and commemorative souvenirs.
When King George V was crowned on June 22nd 1911, Smithers did not yet exist as a town. The Interior News, at that time based out of Aldermere, reported the coronation of George V on the front page of its June 24th edition. Unfortunately, the newspaper offers no details on whether any local events were held in Telkwa or Aldermere to mark the occasion. It appears as though local energy was instead directed at the upcoming Dominion Day (Canada Day) celebrations that were planned for the following week.
The first coronation to take place after the founding of Smithers in 1913m was that of King George VI on May 12th 1937. The coronation event had originally been planned for King George VI’s brother Edward, King Edward VIII (later known as the Duke of Windsor). Edward had abdicated his throne in December 1936 after less than a year of kingship so that he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. His abdication meant that his younger brother Albert became king instead, styling himself as King George like his father.
In Smithers, the coronation of George VI was marked with free movie screenings for local kids, a parade down Main Street, numerous speeches, a baseball game, and an evening concert and dance. Some of the people participating in these events were likely quite exhausted as “Many Smithers citizens remained awake all night to hear the broadcast of the actual coronation over in London”, according to the Smithers Interior News. The coronation of George VI was the first in history to be broadcast by radio, and the first to be filmed, although no cameras were allowed in Westminster Abbey for the ceremony itself.
The Interior News provides a description of the festive atmosphere in the community and the Main Street decorations:
“Never has the town appeared in such magnificent decoration. Green trees line the main street for the parade to pass through a huge cedar arch at the Government Building, where addresses and presentations are to be made. String after string of vari-coloured lights present the most inspiring spectacle, and under this example by the central committee, who have done Smithers proud by their complete and artistic work, private citizens have entered into the scheme of decoration with enthusiasm”.
Sixteen years later Smithers once again prepared to celebrate a coronation. Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne after the death of her father, George VI, on February 6th 1952. Elizabeth II’s coronation, held on June 2nd 1953, was the first in history to be fully televised, although Smithereens would not have been able to watch it. Television broadcast was not available in Smithers until 1963.¹
The 1953 coronation was also marked with a program of community events, including a parade down Main Street, speeches by dignitaries, free ice cream and a free screening of “The Greatest Show on Earth” for local kids, and an evening concert and ball.
Interestingly, no known photographs of the 1953 coronation events in Smithers exist in the BV Museum’s collection. While we do not have any images of the events, our collection does contain commemorative items from Elizabeth II’s coronation, including the souvenir program above, a commemorative plate, cups and saucers, and a biscuit tin.
These souvenirs are just a small sample of commemorative pieces themed around Elizabeth II that would be produced over the next 70 years of her reign, including commemorative items marking her platinum jubilee, as well as her death, in 2022.
Over the 70 years since the last coronation of a British monarch in 1953, Canada’s relationship with the Crown has undergone significant changes, with polls suggesting fewer and fewer Canadians feel an attachment to the monarchy.² With no local plans for parades, balls, or concerts to mark the coronation of Charles III on May 6th 2023, it seems unlikely that any items related to this coronation will end up in our collection in the future. In light of this changing interest in the monarchy and coronation celebrations, we can view the photographs and memorabilia in our collection as evidence of a time in our community’s history when that connection to the United Kingdom and the monarchy was considered important, and worth celebrating.
1. Television broadcasting was made widely available to residents of Smithers and the Bulkley Valley for the first time by CFTK-TV in September and October 1963. See Interior News October 2nd 1963.
2. See Toronto Star article “Ahead of King Charles’s coronation, new survey suggests 60 per cent of Canadians oppose recognizing him as monarch“. Monday, April 24th 2023, accessed May 5 2023.