Coronation Celebrations in Canada: Six Rarities from Our Archives

May 3, 2023 | David

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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.

Two side by side illustrations of sets of royal crowns and sceptres and rings
Illustrations of coronation regalia for kings (left) and queens (right) — from one of our oldest items about coronations, a children's book from 1820 depicting the ceremony's attire "from king to commoner." View 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.

Yellowed paper titled Coronation Day Excursions! with a drawing of a beaver and two maple leaves and then a list of departing times across Belleville and Trenton and Massassaga with a faire of either 20 or 25 cents and a note that Professor Frank Broussea Violinsit will have charge of the music during the evening and a side note to Try Miller and Davis Fine Groceries
Ad for boat trips on Coronation Day, 1902. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

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. 

Two side by side images of what appears to be the same image of an old street with as streetcar and many people on sidewalks as well as some flags and crowns hanging on stores and above street
Yonge Street, looking north of King Street in Toronto, 1902. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

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. 

Fancy card with images of a King and Queen with a crest in between and an image of Canada with railway routes as well as images of a boat and prairie and train along with text reading Coronation June 1911 The Grand Trunk Railway System The Chairman and Directors of the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada request the pleasure of the Company of named filled in to view the royal procession from the Grand Trunk Building 17 and 19 cockspur st S. W on Friday the 23 June 1911
An invitation to the Royal Procession, 1911. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

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?

Vintage cover with couple dancing with ribbon leading to crown and inset photo of man and text reading The Coronation Waltz Words by Paul Cunningham Music by Irving Masloff
"The Coronation Waltz" sheet music for voice and piano, 1936. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

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)

Vintage black and white photo of large group photo on deck of large boat showing high school aged girls smiling
Members of "Young Canada", 1937. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

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.")

Vintage black and white photo of three smiling pilots holding helmets in front of fighter jet
Pilots in the 445 All-Weather Fighter Squadron, 1953. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

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

Box cover alongside opened box with two cards, one listing kings and queens of Britain and one showing a King and Queen illustrated with a brief description and key life facts
Cover and sample of cards in a game titled "Royal Revels, or Game of Kings", approximately 1838.

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