In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne of the United Kingdom, Canada and other Commonwealth realms. The occasion was the focus of widespread popular celebrations in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, as well as increased discussion and debate concerning the monarchy and its future. In October 2002, the Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, travelled across Canada for 12 days to celebrate the Golden Jubilee with Canadians.
Historical Golden Jubilees
The first Golden Jubilee to be widely celebrated was that of King George III. In the United Kingdom, there were fireworks and a service of thanksgiving in 1809, when George III entered the 50th year of his reign. The Upper Canada assembly passed a formal declaration in honour of the occasion in 1810.
The Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 emphasized her role as “grandmother of Europe” through the marriages of her children and grandchildren. European royalty and Imperial and Dominion representatives gathered in London to mark the occasion. Canadian delegates at the 1887 Colonial Conference in London included Ontario lieutenant-governor Sir Alexander Campbell and civil engineer Sir Sandford Fleming, who advocated for connecting the British empire by telegraph.
Golden Jubilee Celebrations in the United Kingdom
On 6 February 2002, the Queen quietly marked the 50th anniversary of her father’s death and her accession to the throne at Sandringham in Norfolk. From May to August, she visited 70 cities and towns in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The main jubilee celebrations took place in London over a special four-day holiday weekend from June 1 to 4. More than one million people watched the ceremonial procession from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a thanksgiving service on June 4. Approximately 200 million people around the world watched the Party at the Palace on television — the first time that the grounds of Buckingham Palace were the setting of a rock/pop concert. The concert was followed by the largest fireworks display in London’s history.
In her June 2002 Golden Jubilee message, the Queen stated, “I hope…that this time of celebration in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth will not simply be an occasion to be nostalgic about the past. I believe that, young or old, we have as much to look forward to with confidence and hope as we have to look back on with pride.”
The Queen and Prince Philip also undertook extensive Commonwealth tours in 2002, visiting some of the 15 overseas realms where the Queen was Head of State. From February 18 to March 3, they travelled to Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia. The Queen opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Coolum Beach, Australia.
Did You Know?
The 2002 Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay — the passing of a baton containing a message from the Queen, which she read at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester — travelled over 100,000 kilometres through 23 Commonwealth countries over 87 days.
The Queen in Canada
The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in Canada on 4 October 2002 for a 12-day tour in honour of the Golden Jubilee. The tour began in Nunavut, where a children’s choir sang “God Save the Queen” in English, French and Inuktitut. It was the first royal visit to the new territory. The royal couple then travelled to British Columbia, where the Queen dropped the ceremonial first puck at an NHL game. Journalist Michael Valpy observed in The Globe and Mail, “That event celebrated Elizabeth in the fabric of Canada. As did the images of her sitting in the royal box beside Wayne Gretzky.”
The tour continued to Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and the National Capital Region. Approximately 35,000 people gathered to see the Queen in Winnipeg, while crowds were smaller in Toronto and Ottawa. In a speech delivered in Vancouver, the Queen stated, “I treasure my place in the life of Canada and my bond with Canadians everywhere.”
The Golden Jubilee tour of Canada highlighted differences of opinion among Canadian politicians concerning the role of the monarchy in Canada. Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, who was the official government escort for the tour, stated, “I continue to think that for Canada after Queen Elizabeth, it should be time to consider a different institution for us, and personally I would prefer a wholly Canadian institution.” The timing of his remarks attracted widespread criticism because of his prominent role in the tour. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien emphasized that Manley’s views were not those of the Canadian government, stating, “It’s a personal view. It’s not the position of the government.”
Polling data in Canada suggested that the Golden Jubilee celebrations coincided with increased popular support for the monarchy in Canada. According to a poll by EKOS Research Associates, 55 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement, “The monarchy is one of those important things that provides Canadians with a unique identity separate from the US.” Support for abolishing the monarchy in Canada declined in 2002 from previous polls in 1994. The press noted the enthusiastic crowds who gathered for royal walkabouts in Canada and their positive memories of past royal tours. Ken MacQueen wrote in Maclean’s, “For more than 50 years, she’s piled memory upon memory, relentlessly building a case that the monarchy — with all its idiosyncrasies, anachronism and dysfunction — remains a relevant part of that [national] identity.”
On 9 October 2002, Dalton-Digby Wildlands Provincial Park, near Gravenhurst, Ontario, was officially renamed Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park, fulfilling a promise by the Ontario government to rename a provincial park in honour of the Golden Jubilee. As in the reign of Queen Victoria, municipal parks were named or renamed in honour of the Golden Jubilee, including the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Garden in Mississauga.
The popular success of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations revived popular interest in the monarchy and set precedents for the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (2012) and Platinum Jubilee (2022) in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.