Yukon Nuggets

1959 Yukon Nuggets

Royal Visit


1959 was quite the year. Tumultuous some might say. In January, Alaska became the 49th U.S. state. In February, a chartered plane carrying Buddy Holly crashed in an Iowa snowstorm. It was, to quote song writer Don McLean, "the day the music died."

In March, the 50’s final fad featured the Barbie doll. In April, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened to ocean-going ships. In May, Volvo received a patent on a three-point seat belt which safety experts called the most significant invention in the history of the automobile.

In June, Queen Elizabeth began a cross-country tour of Canada with the Yukon on the list of stops. While in Whitehorse, a Royal tummy ache turned out to be the biggest news of the tour. The forty-five day visit began in Newfoundland on June 18th. A month later, on Saturday, July 18, the Queen and Prince Phillip arrived at the Whitehorse airport on a flight from Vancouver.

Elizabeth, said the newspapers, looked pale and drawn - perhaps worn out from the rigours of the arduous tour. A few days later, the world would hear the real story. From the airport, the Royal couple were driven downtown in a brand new 1959 Ford Fairlane convertible that was owned by a Cassiar miner named Vincenzo Caparell. It took some quick police work by the Mounties to find the convertible after a last-minute royal request for such a vehicle.

Half an hour after her arrival, the Mounties, who always get their car, had found the Fairlane, the Army polished it up and it was ready at the airbase for the drive that included a ride over streets coated with a new topping of old oil, the material of choice to keep the dust down in the days before pavement.

The first stop was at the MacBride Museum where curator Bill MacBride told the Duke about Yukon wildlife while Mrs. MacBride told the Queen stories about the late Martha Louise Black. Patsy Henderson was there – resplendent in his leather leggings and beaded jacket -- regaling the Royals about that day in 1896 when - as a boy - he was with his uncle, Skookum Jim, and George Carmack when they discovered the gold that set the world ablaze.

Then it was off with Mayor Gordon Cameron on a walkabout to the nearby train station where White Pass railway engineer Charlie Rapuzzi unfurled the Royal standard and eased the diesel locomotive out of town for a quick trip to McCrae. The journey included a view of the Yukon River and the newly built hydro dam that had destroyed the historic Whitehorse Rapids.

When the thirty-five minute train ride ended, the Royal party returned to Whitehorse in Caparelli’s Fairlane. They were housed in the DOT’s VIP quarters at the airport, the house that now sits at Seventh Avenue and Alexander streets.

Chef for the Royal household was RCAF Cpl. Fred Johnstone from Moose Jaw, who had once been stationed in Whitehorse. Cpl. Johnstone prepared all meals in the VIP house, except for Saturday night when the power went off when a fuse blew in a nearby transformer. After cold cuts, Phillip went fishing and the Queen went to bed.

But the most important news of the Canadian tour leaked out next morning. A Sunday service was scheduled at the Old Log Church. At the appointed hour, the Queen was a no show. Prince Phillip arrived alone in the Royal convertible and read the lesson while Anglican bishop Tom Greenwood and a full house looked on. But why was the Queen not there?

Her personal physician announced to a galvanized press that she was exhausted from the grueling tour and had an upset stomach. Some news hounds were not buying the story and it was finally revealed that the Queen was suffering from morning sickness. She was pregnant with another Royal. They would name him Edward.

For the Queen, Sunday remained a day of rest while the Duke headed for Dawson in a four-engine de Haviland Heron military aircraft. Phillip piloted the plane to Dawson and back, taxing right up to the VIP house at the Whitehorse airport while the recovering Queen watched from a window.

It was the Queen Elizabeth’s only visit to the Yukon, though the Duke had been here five years earlier on a solo trip in 1954.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.