Recreating the royal visit
With a smile and a wave, Mitchell Woodward (Prince Philip) and Sarah Backes (Queen Elizabeth II) are driven by Jessie Duchesne in a vintage car, recreating the arrival of the royal party at the Iroquois Plaza during the 1959 royal tour. Thompson Goddard photo

IROQUOIS – The weather was wonderful, the crowds good and the local history fascinating as people gathered at the Iroquois shopping plaza and at the village’s waterfront to commemorate the 1959 royal visit to this small South Dundas community.  

A snapshot of history
A large group of people gathered at the waterfront gazebo in Iroquois on June 29 to view historical photographs and listen to firsthand accounts of the Royal Visit to this South Dundas community on June 26, 1959. Thomspon Goddard photo

Organized by the South Dundas Chamber of Commerce, the Iroquois Waterfront Committee and the South Dundas Historical Society, the event featured the opportunity to watch a video of the 1959 royal visit, a series of speakers relating their recollections of the Queen’s visit and the  recreation of the royal couple driving through the plaza. Sarah Backes and Mitchell Woodward portrayed HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip respectively and were driven in a vintage car by Jessie Duchesne. The couple waved to those gathered at the plaza and after making a couple of loops, the vehicle continued to its waterfront destination where a short photo opportunity was held before they departed. 

 The gazebo contained several photographic displays which detailed the 1959 royal visit; which included the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, as well as local history. After an introduction from Jim Wilson of the Iroquois Waterfront Committee, several speakers provided information on the history of this part of Dundas County, their recollections of the impact the construction of the Seaway had on their lives, and the part they played in the 1959 royal visit.

Barbara (Fetterly) Cope was a 15-year-old when she presented the royal couple with a gift of four sets of specially designed towels created especially for the event by the Caldwell Linen Mills in Iroquois. Cope explained the various instructions given, which included the wearing of a hat and gloves, speaking only if spoken to and how the lady-in-waiting would receive the gift as the Queen would be holding the flowers presented by Christine Davis. She described how when the gift was to be given to the lady-in-waiting the person was not there and Prince Phillip eventually took the gift and tossed it to his nearby naval attaché who caught it! 

Lorne Strader, a former reeve of Matilda Township, described segments of the long history of the Iroquois area and commented how the St. Lawrence Seaway displaced more than 6,500 people on the Canadian side with the great expectations anticipated with the project never materializing. He explained how this demonstrates that there is no stopping the passage of time or progress. Beth (Marcellus) Sweetnam commented how this period in the community’s history was not an easy time for the older generation but mentioned how the younger people seemed to be excited by what was happening. Bonnie Adair spoke about the royal visit in 1959, recalling that about 3,000 children were in the Iroquois plaza to see the Queen but it was a very brief stop at that location before the motorcade continued to Iroquois Point. 

The event provided an opportunity to hear stories associated with the St. Lawrence Seaway which changed the river and its banks forever in order to facilitate ocean going vessels navigating safely between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. The events this past weekend in Iroquois bring to the forefront the stories associated with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway 60 years ago and the royal visit to the affected area shortly thereafter.