Fast times at Leaside High – the day Prince Philip came to town

Prince Phillip.
Prince Phillip.

Many Canadians were sad to learn in April that Prince Philip had died at the age of 99. Leasiders in particular may have felt a special loss – especially those old enough to remember when the Prince visited Leaside HS in late October, 1969.

Philip had come to Leaside as part of a two-week tour of Canada to personally congratulate recipients of the Duke of Edinburgh awards. As many as 20 Leaside HS students – all young women – were among the award winners he planned to meet, including the winner of a coveted Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. (Read our story on Leaside’s Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award winner Sydney Murray.)

On October 22, the day of his arrival, Leaside was filled with excitement. In preparation, the high school had hung a large banner welcoming the Prince, set up exhibits in the gym for him to inspect, and organized a fashion show – replete with an improvised runway – for his entertainment. Students from nearby Northlea PS were dismissed early and lined the streets waving Canadian flags in the brisk fall air. 

Despite cold and snow, the prince arrived coatless, wearing just a suit. Before entering the school, he paused to smile and wave to the excited students and parents awaiting his arrival. 

Once inside, he was greeted by a throng of equally awe-struck high schoolers eager to meet a member of the royal family. 

Many students were impressed by how approachable and down-to-earth Philip was. “I thought he’d be sort of stuffy, a wealthy aristocrat,” said one student, “[but] he’s great. I’d like to get to know him better.” Another confessed she thought she would “be scared,” when meeting him, but instead was so comfortable that “I just floated off the runway” during the fashion show. 

The Prince obviously had a knack for making people feel at ease. When he asked a young student athlete what she did in her spare time, she had no qualms boldly responding: “Well…I’ve thrown the eight-pound shotput 28 feet, 4 inches and I managed the best baseball team in our league.” Impressed, His Royal Highness exclaimed “My goodness!”

In addition to these encounters, Philip viewed the various student displays featuring hobbies, outdoor life, food and crafts. He then proceeded to the school auditorium where he addressed students and faculty prior to handing out the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. In his remarks, he praised the winners for their tremendous commitment and effort in qualifying for the awards. He concluded by congratulating them on their achievement, observing that it was “the best example of student power I’ve come across yet.” 

Today, many still vividly remember Philip’s visit. One Leasider recalls that her mother provided flowers for the event. Others noted the discrepancy that Northlea students were let out of school to see the Prince, but those at Rolph Road and St Anselm’s had to stay at their desks. 

But no matter what they were doing, most people will admit – it was all quite exciting to be touched by royal pixie dust.

This article was guest contributed by Ted Dewelles, Leaside Heritage Preservation Society.