Posts Tagged ‘Queen Elizabeth II’

Sylvia Fedoruk spent her life moving toward royalty.

In fact, she came far closer, far more often, to the British Royal Family than many other Saskatchewan citizens. And in this time of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, it’s fitting to recount the many times that Sylvia Fedoruk connected with royalty.

It started, as many stories do, with her parents. Sylvia’s mother, Annie Romaniuk Fedoruk, was an ardent royalist. She cut images from newspapers and magazines, built a scrapbook, lovingly followed the royal family, and when Elizabeth II came to the throne and gave her Christmas broadcast, Annie Fedoruk was in the living room, radio or television on, family hushed to hear the Queen’s speech. That reverence was part of the fabric of the household where Sylvia was raised.

The first royal encounter came when Sylvia was twelve. It was 1939, and the new king, George VI and his wife Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother) were on a royal tour of Canada. Western Canada, especially the towns near the stations where the royal train was due to stop, were on fire with royal fever. Sylvia’s parents, Annie and Ted Fedoruk, arranged for a farm truck and scooped up the local schoolchildren — Ted was Sylvia’s one-room schoolteacher — and took them on a trip to the nearby town of Melville, where the King and Queen were to stop.

For one brief moment, Melville became the largest town in Saskatchewan as people poured out of wagons, buggies, cars, and trucks to fill the streets. Sylvia darted away from her schoolmates and parents and, sneaking and swirling, made her way through the crowd towards the rear of the train, where the royal couple — stunned at the size of the pulsing, wildly cheering crowd — were waving. She snuck as close as she dared and waved madly, shivering in excitement as the sky filled with fireworks. For a kid who managed to survive the Great Depression, it was a moment caught in Sylvia’s memory: I saw the king and queen.

Image of Sylvia Fedoruk at age 12, dressed in a white dress with a neck bow and wearing flowers in her hair, ready to greet royalty in 1939.
Sylvia Fedoruk in 1939, thought to be dressed for the royal visit at Melville

By 1951, there was a new royal superstar in the making: Princess Elizabeth and her dashing naval officer husband, Prince Phillip. With Elizabeth’s father suffering in secret in declining ill health, Elizabeth and Phillip were starting to take on a more active role in the colonies. Their Canadian tour in 1951 brought the royals to Saskatoon, right to the University of Saskatchewan where Sylvia had just finished her stunning masters work on calibrating the depth dose for the cobalt-60 unit, for cancer treatment. Again, Sylvia, as ardent a royalist as her mother, would have been in The Bowl on campus, probably perching in the bleachers, waving and cheering as Elizabeth — not yet queen — swept past with Phillip.

Sylvia’s royal watching cooled for a time, as she threw herself into work and built an impressive science career as a medical physicist. Yes, she remained faithful and, alongside Annie, listened to the new Queen’s Christmas broadcasts and kept abreast of royal comings and goings.

In 1971, Sylvia went with a group of Canadian ladies to Scotland, to participate in a moving, multi-venue bonspiel of epic proportions. Before returning home, Sylvia crafted and sent a warm thank you note to Queen Elizabeth, to tell her about the trip and thank the Queen for the impressive British and Scottish hospitality. Sylvia was delighted when her simple note drew a warm official response from Buckingham Palace.

In 1977, the Queen was once again in Canada and this time, there was going to be a party in Ottawa: a Tribute to Young Canadians Who Have Achieved Excellence in the Arts and Sciences — and Sylvia, as the first first woman member of the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada, was invited. Apparently, no one looked at Sylvia’s birth certificate because if they had, they would have realized that ‘young’ was a bit of a misnomer: she was, in fact, just one year younger than the Queen, and both women were on the far side of fifty. Nonetheless, with Ottawa covering the costs, Sylvia flew to the capital to attend the glitzy gala and — in the Queen’s quiet, intelligent style — Elizabeth II circulated through the room and to Sylvia’s lasting honour, stopped Sylvia for a private chat about nuclear physics, cancer treatment, and nuclear power.

Just a year later, the Queen was visiting Yorkton as part of her cross-Canadian tour. Sylvia made a strategic visit home to the small city to see her aunt (Sylvia’s mom had died in 1968 and her father in 1977). Sylvia and her auntie, along with Sylvia’s dog Tinker, stood along the roadway, waving madly at the motorcade, then hopped into their own car and scooted across town to stand alongside another part of the route and wave enthusiastically when the Queen swept by again. Sylvia’s extended family lore relates that the Queen — a dog lover — took a second look when she recognized the dog! [Note: I mistakenly remembered this incident from 1967 and my original post set it there and then, but a subsequent dig through my files put the story into the right year… sorry!]

Ten years later, in 1987, Sylvia Fedoruk was the first female Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan and invited to attend a luncheon at the Centennial Auditorium — with a mere thousand other guests — in honour of the Queen’s visit. Sylvia also filled out the crowds at the royal ribbon-cutting for the new canoeing and rowing facilities on the edge of the south Saskatchewan. Yet all of these encounters were just a foretaste: the real connection to royalty was still to come.

Sylvia Fedoruk became Saskatchewan’s first female lieutenant governor, in 1988. It was a wildly exciting time for Sylvia, not least of which because, as per custom, each new lieutenant governor was granted one trip to Britain to meet the Queen, sometime during their tenure. Sylvia was eager to go. However, that trip would have to wait. In the meantime, one of Sylvia’s first, and joyous, announcements as Lieutenant Governor was to let the public know that a slightly different royal trip was in the works: Prince Andrew and his then wife Sarah Ferguson (affectionately known as Fergie) were coming to Saskatchewan. Their Saskatchewan trip gave Sylvia multiple times to connect and act as the province’s official royal hostess, including presenting Sarah with several homemade teddy bears, one dressed like a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer.

Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson, and Sylvia Fedoruk. Sarah is holding up a teddy bear made for her.
Andrew, Sarah, and Sylvia, 1989

In 1993, quietly but with great excitement, Sylvia was finally able to board a plane to London, UK, to meet the woman she had been representing as Lieutenant Governor in government and in communities across Saskatchewan. Her day timer notation said it all:

Meet with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Sylvia’s handwriting in Sylvia’s day timer.

Sylvia thought, perhaps, that visit to London, to Buckingham Palace and her private meeting with the Queen would be the end. But, in line with Sylvia’s astonishing royal luck, there was one more meeting. In 2005, for the province’s 100th birthday celebrations, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip returned to the province. And Sylvia, as a past lieutenant governor and past member of the University of Saskatchewan Board of Governors, was invited to some of the Queen’s smaller events. It’s from this last visit that Sylvia’s treasure trove of photograph albums reveals its prize: a picture of Queen Elizabeth II, walking outside at USask and greeting people. Finally, after all these meetings, far and near, personal and amongst the cheering crowds, Sylvia had a photograph of the Queen to keep, for her very own, to remind her of their long long history of connecting. Sylvia was content.

Queen Elizabeth II in Saskatoon. Photograph by Sylvia Fedoruk, 2005.

[As an aside: that 2005 trip garnered one of my favourite stories about someone I know meeting the Queen. Dr. Bill Waiser presented Queen Elizabeth II with a copy of his Saskatchewan provincial history, called “Saskatchewan: A New History.” Prince Phillip, ever the curmudgeon, asked “What’s wrong with the old history?”]

Sylvia Fedoruk would have been 95 this year, just a year younger than Elizabeth II. They saw the world change from Depression through war through scientific advancement and cancer treatment to rockets and a trip to the moon, to the internet and a world that became both larger and smaller. Through it all, Sylvia remained an ardent royalist and a woman as dedicated to service and supporting others as the Queen herself. If we can’t characterize their connection as friendship, it was certainly one of mutual admiration and respect. And Sylvia cherished each and every one of those connections, from driving wildly across Yorkton to wave twice at Her Majesty’s motorcade, to riding in style through the gates of Buckingham Palace for a private audience with Elizabeth II.

God Save our Gracious Queen. Long live the King.

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