Once Upon a City: Royals feel love on eve of war

It was nine hours that transfixed Toronto. Nine hours when all eyes and hearts turned to King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth during the first visit to Canada by reigning British monarchs.Schoolchildren cheered themselves hoarse. Veterans of the Great War wept in their wheelchairs. And everyone from urchins to the upper crust lined the streets, filled windows and covered rooftops to show their undying adoration and loyalty to the royal couple.In return, the King and Queen “gave the city a taste of old world pomp and ceremony, and with it a living portrait of true majesty — nobility, friendliness and devotion to duty,” the Toronto Daily Star observed on one of 40 pages covering the history-making event on May 22, 1939.The journey across the Atlantic began May 6 when the royals left their daughters Elizabeth, 13, and Margaret, 8, for their month-long Canadian visit, which included five days in the United States. Two warships escorting them carried a secret cargo of gold worth $120 million (about $2 billion today) to help pay for the looming Second World War that was to begin four months later.Ottawa had planned a train tour that would cross the country twice, beginning in Quebec City and ending in Halifax, with 50 “brief personal appearances” along the way.Article Continued BelowKing George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto during their Royal Tour of Canada in May 1939. From the moment the blue and silver train pulled into North Toronto station (now the Summerhill LCBO store) at 10:30 a.m. on a grey, wet morning until it left Union Station at 7:30 p.m., the city was swept up by emotion.“Joyous citizens massed at every vantage point,” the newspaper reported. “Little hands were grasped firmly around the small staffs of Union Jacks, waving them joyously. Everyone seemed to be wearing something red, white and blue.”Among the jubilant throngs, a war veteran in a khaki beret “hustled down Bay St. with a spring in his step that probably hadn’t been there in years.”