A flash from the past

Thirty years ago, Charles and Di were charming throngs in St. John’s

Susan Flanagan susan@48degrees.ca
Published on June 11, 2013

Recently I was in Newman’s Wine Vaults on Springdale Street in St. John’s, enjoying a port and chocolate pairing, when I noticed that the glass case just inside the front door housed dinnerware that had been used by Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, on their royal visit to Newfoundland in June 1983.

June 1983. Can it be 30 years since the new parents — Prince William was born June 21, 1982 — regaled us with their presence?

Let’s go back for a moment to this month 30 years ago. The Britannia was anchored in the harbour where onboard entertainment included fiddlers Kelly Russell and Rufus Guinchard. Mayor John Murphy had erected a boughed entranceway at City Hall to greet the royal couple.

Premier Brian Peckford accompanied them to the Aquarena running track where Charles gave a speech commemorating the 400th anniversary of Newfoundland becoming Britain’s first colony when Sir Humphrey Gilbert planted a flag down at King’s Wharf in 1583 declaring this land for England.

We were still living on Bell’s Turn that June when Charles and Diana, in the middle of their 18-day Canadian tour, paraded down Portugal Cove Road in front of Brown’s Store. My one-year-old niece, born two months before Prince William, toddled around in the back of a neighbour’s pickup truck while her mother tried to catch a glimpse of the royal couple, whose supposed fairy-tale wedding two years before was still fresh in everybody’s mind.

The tour of St. John’s was a non-stop blur of speeches by Prince Charles and hand touching by Diana.

She knew how to work the crowd and the strict royal schedule was often late due to her enjoyment at meeting people.

Gillian Decker was in preschool when the royal couple came to Memorial Stadium for the Festival of Youth. She has vague memories of meeting the princess but a photo of them together is immortalized in a book called “Remembering Diana” by photographers Eric Hayes and David Nichols. There is video on the CBC website of Diana inspecting the tap shoes of one of the dancers.

Esther Buckley was a nursing instructor when Charles and Diana visited the children’s hospital.

“I just happened to be there with my students who were affiliating from St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital School of Nursing,” says Buckley. “It was very exciting … especially for the children. Diana wore a red and white polka dot dress with a red jacket and a red and white hat. The couple spent as much time as possible with the children,” adds Buckley, remembering how the crew from the Britannia brought small Union Jacks to the children. One of Buckley’s photos from that day is shown here.

Charles and Diana also officially opened Cape Spear National Historic Site that year. The fog rolled in and the wind blew, but the crowd was unconcerned. The photos here of Cape Spear were taken by Myrna Kielley, a well-known photographer in St. John’s at the time.

It had to be difficult for Diana to leave her firstborn and visit another country where her every move was photographed and scrutinized. Although the crowds were adoring, it must have been taxing. She seemed so young.

And indeed on the final day of her Canadian visit, July 1, 1983, Diana, Princess of Wales, turned 22 years old.

Had someone told us back then that the new wife, princess and mother would be dead 14 years later at the age of 36, we would never have believed it.

Seize the day.

Susan Flanagan can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca