Rob Rathbun fondly recalls the day he lifted a little girl on his shoulders so she could give Queen Elizabeth II a bouquet of flowers during a procession outside the British Columbia legislature in 2002.
The girl was “over the moon,” he said.
Rathbun, the vice-president of the Royal Commonwealth Society in British Columbia, said he then led the crowd in a cheer for the sovereign.
“I was thinking to myself, the crowd’s being awfully quiet, and this shouldn’t be. So, I belted out, ‘Three cheers for our Queen, hip, hip!’ And 10,000 people said ‘hooray,’” recalled Rathbun.
“At that point, Her Majesty had an absolutely wonderful smile on her face.”
His recollections of Queen Elizabeth’s visits to Canada, describing her warm energy and bright smiles, are being echoed across the country as residents mourn her death Thursday at the age of 96.
Tung Chan describes a photo capturing the moment he shook hands with the Queen as a “treasure” of his life.
The Richmond, B.C., resident was born in Hong Kong in the same year as the Queen’s coronation, 1952, lending him the sense he’d always known her, he said.
The former CEO of SUCCESS, a group that helps newcomers to Canada, said it was the highlight of his career to meet and hear the sovereign give a speech at theRoyal York Hotelin Toronto. He’d been invited to a dinner hosted by then-prime minister Stephen Harper during the Queen’s tour of several Canadian cities in summer 2010.
Chan recalled being briefed on the procedures around meeting the Queen, which dictated he couldn’t say anything unless she said something to him first.
He said he shook her hand and held her gaze for a moment before moving on.
Chan, who came to Canada from Hong Kong in the 1970s, said he felt sad upon hearing that Britain’s longest-serving monarch had died.
Growing up, Chan had known the Queen as the “boss lady,” he said, laughing and explaining that his father had been the principal of a school subsidized by the Hong Kong government during British colonial rule.
Chan said he looked forward every year to hearing the Queen’s remarks at Christmas, which he found positive and uplifting, giving people hope.
Shawn Wade, president of the Royal Commonwealth Society’s B.C. chapter, said he felt the sovereign had a “special aura or power about her” when she met his eyes with a smile as she walked by him during a 2002 visit to the University of British Columbia.
Wade also recalled the Queen greeting crowds in 1983, when she visited Vancouver to mark the start of construction of the Canada Place venue ahead of Expo 86.
“Over the years, she was always there for you, in good times, in bad times,” he said.
“The Queen was always in your life. She was a constant.”
Wade said the Queen made him feel like he was part of a larger global community.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said after the Queen’s death that each of her seven visits to the province brought people together with a sense of common purpose.
“For the tens of thousands of people who came out to see the Queen as she travelled to communities throughout B.C., these moments will be cherished for a lifetime,” his statement read.
Horgan said the Queen made time for people, especially children, at every opportunity.
In a reflection of Rathbun, Chan and Wade’s sentiments, B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin issued a statement Thursday saying the Queen’s long and steadfast reign touched entire generations of Canadian families.
The Canadian Press