Montreal (Westmount) and the 1953 Coronation

Last night I woke myself to watch on the Internet some of the live coverage of the ceremony that was taking place in Westminster Abbey. I find the press’ interest in the nuptials to be boring, but what was on my mind was a similar, and for me a memorable, event that took place in the Abbey when I was almost 10 years old.

I am recalling that in 1953 my Mom rented the Green Room at the Avenue (movie) Theatre in Westmount to invite our neighbourhood’s kids to see the film of the Queen’s Coronation. What made the event remarkable was that the film arrived by air the day after the event — amazing for the early 1950s.

One of the things that made this special for us kids was that in Quebec children under 16 were not allowed to go to theatres. Some years earlier there’d been a fire where children were trampled (before panic-bars I guess), so a stupid law was passed. For some special movies (e.g. Disney), some theatres were occasionally allowed to admit children. The Avenue Theatre was one of those.

The Green Room was an alcove in the back wall of the theatre. Chairs and sofas were set up like a living room. There was a glass partition between us and the rest of the audience. It was a good idea to have our group of young people separated from the main theatre. We could talk, walk around, and crawl over the furniture.

I do remember the Coronation (which took place in the same venue as this wedding). I have retained some of the images… and I recall that the Coronation proceeded at a snail’s pace. It was boring, but very colourful. And grand. I guess I sensed that it was historic. The event took place on Tuesday, 1953 June 2. So, I’m guessing that we saw the film on Wednesday or Thursday. That was about a month before my 10th birthday.

Oh, this is interesting, from Wikipedia:

The coronation of the Queen was the first ever to be televised (although the BBC Television Service had covered part of the procession from Westminster Abbey after her father’s coronation in 1937, and was also the world’s first major international event to be broadcast on television. There had been considerable debate within the British Cabinet on the subject, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill against the idea; but, Elizabeth refused her British prime minister’s advice on this matter and insisted the event take place before television cameras, as well as those filming with experimental 3-D technology. Millions across Britain watched the coronation live, while, to make sure Canadians could see it on the same day, English Electric Canberras flew film of the ceremony across the Atlantic Ocean to be broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the first non-stop flights between the United Kingdom and the Canadian mainland. In Goose Bay, Newfoundland, the film was transferred to a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-100 jet fighter for the further trip to Montreal. In all, three such voyages were made as the coronation proceeded.

In 1953 I don’t think I knew anyone with a television. The ‘pedia didn’t mention the full colour theatre movie presentation. I did know about the film being flown over… but I thought it was only for the theatres. Video tape did not exist in those days, so I am speculating that the film print we viewed might have been the original that was brought to Canada for the CBC.

Yes, I know this has nothing to do with the Salish Sea… but it has occurred to me that this blog article may be the only public record of that event in Westmount.


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