Coronation Celebrations in Canada: Six Rarities from Our Archives
As a constitutional monarchy, Canada has held huge celebrations for past coronations of British monarchs. The crowning of King Charles III on May 6, 2023 marks the first coronation in 70 years for Commonwealth nations.
Below is a quick overview of this age-old ceremony and six pieces of history tying it to Ontario and beyond. Toronto Public Library preserves these rare items which are available on Digital Archive Ontario.
A bit of background on coronations
From as far back as the Middle Ages, most British monarchs started their rule immediately after the death of their predecessor. However, to allow time for mourning, their coronation was held several months later. The period leading up to the coronation is called the accession.
The ceremonies of today have changed little from hundreds of years ago. The new sovereign is acclaimed by the people and takes an oath to uphold the law. Anointing and crowning rituals are followed by the presentation of the regalia, symbols of state power such as the sceptre and the orb.
1. Ad for boat excursions in Belleville (1902)
All aboard! Savvy businesses like Miller & Davis’ Fine Groceries capitalized on the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 by sponsoring paid excursions — complete with live music! — on the steamer Nellie Cuthbert. It's one of three ads we've digitized related to this particular store.
2. Stereograph of decorations on Yonge Street (1902)
If you look closely at this souvenir stereograph, you'll spot a crown mounted on the street corner as well as flags, including the Canadian Red Ensign. These items are likely decorations for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Intended to be used with viewing devices, these side-by-side images created a 3D effect when used with viewing devices — better immersing the viewer in the festive Toronto scene.
3. Invitation for a procession in London (1911)
The Grand Trunk Railway, which was the precursor to the Canadian National Railway, sent out this invitation promising a view of a royal procession in London... (wait for it) Ontario. Before the invention of television, events like these helped commonwealth citizens in Canada mark historic occasions. Slated for June 23, 1911, the procession was one day after the coronation of George V and Mary.
4. Sheet music for "The Coronation Waltz" (1936)
This piece of piano music isn't linked to any one coronation. It uses the ceremonies as inspiration for a romantic song that describes wide-reaching celebrations: "from the whole-world over, they're dancing with the King, why shouldn't you?" This edition was published by Gordon V. Thompson Limited at 193 Yonge Street, Toronto. Did you know that several notable Canadian composers wrote compositions for coronations?
5. Group portrait of students travelling to Britain (1937)
These members of the "Young Canada" group travelled to the coronation of George VI in 1937. Hundreds of Canadian high school students attended the event. (We also have a photo of the coronation contingent of Canada's military headed overseas that year.) Even for students who stayed behind, Coronation Day was met with fanfare at their schools:
"Homes, stores, factories, public buildings and streets are decorated with flags and banners, and in the schools children have memorized bits of the actual ceremony to be repeated on the historic day." – Toronto Star (May 11, 1937)
6. Photo of pilots in North Bay responsible for flying over film reels (1953)
A few weeks before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, this image of three Canadian pilots and a CF-100 Canuck jet fighter stationed in North Bay, Ontario graced the front page of the Toronto Star. Their mission: flying back coronation footage from Britain to Canada. Canadians tuned in to witness the eagerly-awaited initiation rite filmed only hours earlier. (For the prior coronation in 1937, some photos in our archive have a note on them: "Photo Flown Across Atlantic.")
Bonus: Card game of British rulers (approximately 1838)
Did someone say royal flush? While not specifically about coronations, this set of 36 cards features facts about English rulers "for learning the history of England." Published in London, England, the game is part of our Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books and our online exhibit Royal Fanfare.