Queen-spotting in Toronto

The crowds have spoken: monarch-watching is this summer’s merriment

Now that the G20 and its accompanying fury have left town, Toronto has returned to its normal summer chaos of road closures, diversions and special interest festivals. Last weekend the city hosted the mammoth Pride celebrations, a jazz festival, a food tasting festival, a Shriners’ convention and a multitude of other events. Yet the chance to see a real live sovereign was at the top of everyone’s must-do list.

“Should we go down and see the real Queen?” a leather-clad gay tourist, in Toronto for the Pride parade, said to his partner early Sunday morning on Bloor Street. If they’d made their way post-haste to St. James Cathedral, they would have discovered at least 150 people had already snapped up the prime viewing spots more than 90 minutes before Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived for morning worship, with hundreds more still to to arrive.

The sweltering conditions at the cathedral also punished the thousands of spectators at Woodbine Racetrack. Cecil Thompson of Oshawa, Ont., claimed his prize-viewing position in the stands at 10 a.m. and then bravely baked in the unrelenting sun for six hours, to “take a picture for grandma,” Florence Dickson. Next to him was 13-year-old Cory Moreland. Because he’d never seen the Queen in his native England, the immigrant lad decided Woodbine was the perfect spot to snap a few pictures of the octogenarian. He didn’t much care that the feature event was the 151st running of the Queen’s Plate. His waiting paid off when her police-escorted landau stopped mere metres away from him.

While most of the audience was wearing the thinnest, shortest outfits—teeny skirts were de rigueur—in a bid to fend off the worst of a 40 plus humidex reading, some were obliged to wear rather more formal, and uncomfortable, ensembles. One of those unfortunates was Sgt. Maj. Bill Stewart, the riding master for the RCMP Musical Ride. Decked out in red serge, he was drenched in sweat, even though he’d found a shady spot tucked directly underneath the royal box to watch the Queen’s arrival. After draining a bottle of water, he explained that the RCMP traditionally provides the horses and postilion riders for the landau used at the Queen’s Plate, and this year, they are the same animals and personnel who escorted the Queen to Parliament Hill in the Governor General’s landau on Canada Day.

The turnout for that July 1 celebration made the royal tour organizers giddy with delight. One official explained that while a normal Parliament Hill celebration would draw around 40,000 and a regal one usually topped 60,000, this 2010 event blew past the 100,000 mark. And there were crowds 10 deep on nearby streets to watch the royal couple take a slow limo ride back to Rideau Hall. Cory Moreland, the teen at Woodbine, had the simplest explanation for why so many have turned out to see an 84-year-old grandmother of eight. “I just want to see the Queen.”