If you were around in Bonavista on June 24, 1997, you probably remember what you were doing the day the Queen came to town.
The Cabot 500 celebrations in Bonavista marked the 500-year anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Bristol, England, to the shores of Bonavista.
In recognition of this historic milestone, one of the largest festivals in the town’s history was organized.
Huge crowds came to the town from far and wide to welcome a replica of John Cabot’s ship, the Matthew, retracing the route that had been taken by Cabot a half millennium earlier.
Among the crowd of dignitaries, and the most notable, were the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, and her husband, Prince Phillip.
George Clements of Bonavista was chair of the Vista ’97 committee, tasked with organizing key events for the day.
Nearly 20 years later, he still remembers some of the details.
“(Planning the festival) was quite challenging because, doing something like that, you feel obligated that it’s got to be done right,” says Clements.
It wasn’t always easy to find the answer to the simplest questions when organizing what needed to be done, he says.
“Like, if we had to prepare a meal for the Queen and Prince Phillip, what are you going to prepare that they’d enjoy?”
Despite some uncertainty, Clements says, as far as he knows, the day ran smoothly. There were many compliments.
The town was absolutely teeming with people who were merely trying to see the Royal visitor as she continued on a set route throughout Bonavista.
She officially opened the Parks Canada newest national historic site — the Ryan Premises National — which tells the story of the fishery in this province.
Her Majesty also visited residents at the Golden Heights Manor and met veterans of the Second World War at the Bonavista war memorial, where she placed a wreath.
She even stopped to talk to First Nations protesters, who were participating in a peaceful demonstration to remember the eradication of the Beothuks in this province after the Europeans followed John Cabot to these shores.
And, yes, the Queen had a luncheon with the Vista ’97 committee. While many will never forget the day the Queen came to town, it rings even more true for Clements and his wife, Bernice, as they each sat beside the Royal couple during the meal.
Clements says he’ll always cherish that memory, and recalls that he wasn’t nervous.
“It was relaxing,” he said. “I must say, I sort of had myself prepared.
“She was observing the audience and had a few questions about what was happening here and there.
“She seemed to be impressed with what was happening during the day.”