Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital on May 10, 1971 during a royal visit to B.C. (Photo: supplied Eric O'Dell)

Memories: Queen warms Prince Rupert hearts at hospital opening ceremonies in 1971

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8 at her Scottish summer home Balmoral Castle.

As Canada’s constitutional monarch and the longest reigning monarch for more than 70 years in British Commonwealth history, she left her mark on the Northcoast during a May 10, 1971 visit to Prince Rupert for the official opening of the regional hospital.

“Her unwavering service to the people of the Commonwealth earned Her Majesty the respect and admiration of Canadians,” the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Janet Austin stated in an official statement.

“She, in turn, loved Canada dearly and travelled here on more occasions than any other country in the world. Over the course of her 22 visits to Canada, she came to British Columbia seven times, visiting communities throughout the province from Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert.”

“I know many people across northwest B.C. are marking today’s (Sept. 9) passing of Queen Elizabeth II with sadness and reflection. She was a remarkable person. I honour her steadfastness, her grit and her humanity,” Taylor Bachrach, MP for Skeena Bulkley said.

Eric O’Dell, who was the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital administrator from 1966 to 1971 oversaw the planning and construction of the medical institution. He told The Northern View he remembers the Queen’s visit vividly as he spent time with her during the opening ceremonies.

“I was goddam nervous,” he recounted of when he met the monarch.

O’Dell said it was a hospital board member who pointed out during the planning of the opening ceremonies that Her Majesty would be on an official visit to British Columbia when the opening ceremonies were scheduled for. It was suggested that nothing ventured was nothing gained — an invitation to open the hospital should be sent.

To the surprise of the hospital board, the invitation was accepted. Queen Elizabeth, along with her husband Prince Phillip, and daughter Princess Anne arrived in the city via Digby Island and a ferry journey across the harbour.

Greeting the Royals were several hundred excited onlookers, as she walked down the midst of a processional of uniformed doctors and nurses, O’Dell said.

For surveillance reasons and the availability of the RCMP, the hospital launch was held outside. O’Dell recalls it was a sunny dry day where the famous coastal rain held off. Protocol and security were tight and everything was timed accordingly.

However, the Queen bucked protocol after someone had a quiet word in her ear that there was an interesting item that hospital staff were so proud of that she may want to look at.

“A couple of people on board quietly mentioned that there was a pretty special feature in the lobby there. The Queen, being a very astute lady, when she came to me being introduced she said, “Well, maybe I could see it,” So I walked her over to the entrance and showed her.”

Her Majesty, with O’Dell at her side, viewed the 24-foot red cedar carving by renowned First Nations artist Freda Diesing which today welcomes the public into the hospital. The carving displays the four clans of raven, killer whale, wolf and eagle. It had been specifically purchased by hospital staff and rushed by Diesing to be in time for the ceremonies.

“The whole community was very excited and please to have somebody of that stature come and officially open our hospital. It was a good thing.”

After the daily proceedings Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Princess Anne spent some leisure time on a fishing boat and were sailed back across the harbour to Digby Island for their departure.

“There was very enthusiastic support from the community,” O’Dell said. “The whole thing was as informal as formal would allow.”


K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her daughter Princess Anne and Prince Rupert hospital board members view the red cedar carving by First Nation artist Freda Diesing. (Photo: supplied Eric O’Dell)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her daughter Princess Anne and Prince Rupert hospital board members view the red cedar carving by First Nation artist Freda Diesing. (Photo: supplied Eric O’Dell)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II leaves Prince Rupert Regional Hospital after she attended the opening ceremonies on May 10, 1971. (Photo: supplied, Eric O’Dell)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II leaves Prince Rupert Regional Hospital after she attended the opening ceremonies on May 10, 1971. (Photo: supplied, Eric O’Dell)