The first time I heard of Queen Elizabeth II and knew she was a real person was when I was in grade 5. There was a park being dedicated near our school, and all us kids were turned out to see her on a bright, full-leaf day. I remember a motorcade and the collective thrill of the moment. I did not take any pictures.
The second time was in London, as a teen, all dressed up for the Royal Tattoo. I was with my father and brother, who had a camera. We were at the front, not far from the entrance to the steps to the royal box. The Queen and Prince Philip rode up, and the excitement of the people became palpable. She was stunning, so stunning in a flowing floor-length multi-coloured gown. The Prince paused so that my brother could get a photo. I again had no camera.
The third time was this week at Queen's Park. I went for the sole purpose of taking a picture. I didn't expect to be able to see her as clearly as I had that night in London, England, but I hoped to be close enough to get a photo. Unfortunately, I had to balance my stamina with the reality of beating the crowds to the fence. To make matters harder, it was hot. Like real hot. Like I would prefer to be sitting back fanning myself with a glass of iced tea in hand, hot. I wore my hat, filled my camera bag with my camera, water bottle, and a minimal amount of necessities like keys and ID, and set off on the TTC.
No seat. Anywhere. The TTC is on reduced summer hours, and though they're all for this new concept of service, it didn't extend to increasing subway service to accommodate the crowds that flocked to Queen's Park for either Queen Elizabeth II or the Shriner parade.
I emerged from the subway into the muggy heat and cloudy day to see a group of hot military men in kilts hanging about. I wrestled my camera out of its bag and took a shot or two. That meant I was set up for taking several photos of the band and parade of military men and women marching towards me along Queen's Park Crescent. A kind policeman keeping an eye on the people let me stand on the road in front of the parade long enough to take a few shots, then asked me quietly to step back onto the sidewalk.
After they passed by, I asked how to get through the fence on the perimeter of the South Lawn, went through the gap, and headed for the second fence on the east side. There were two rows of people already there; I found a spot to allow me a good view between heads. Before our fence was a cleared area with a few lucky ducks in it -- centenarians, vets, special VIPs. In front of them was another fence along the east pathway. So in reality, I had about 3 to 4 rows of heads to shoot through. And then pushy lady came and stood right in front of me! When she tried to bring her friend in, I squawked. OK, I whined. No other word for it. She sort of moved to the side (probably blocking another person). And a very kind tallish gentleman to my right offered the place in front of him. I removed my hat and squeezed in. I thanked him but it felt inadequate, for his kindness meant I got the shots that I did.
We waited endlessly. A motorcade, coming from the south, pulled up at the east side of the path. The crowd got excited. But it was Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and Mayor David Miller wearing his chain of office. They motored along the path westward. The Chief is a tall, tall man, and the Mayor was on the opposite side to him from me, so he was unfortunately a bit hidden.
We waited some more. I took practice shots looking through the viewfinder as well as the arms raised in the air method, practicing the blind overhead maneuvre.
We waited some more.
We all drank water.
A young guy in the VIP section showed off his corgi.
We waited some more.
Suddenly applause, a stirring way up at the front as the Queen and the Premier emerged from the Legislature. I heard his voice over the speakers about dedicating a plaque or something. Then silence. We watched the media cameras to see where they pointed, to see what direction they went when applause announced the Queen was moving. The applause moved eastward along the east driveway way, way north of us where a crowd of legislative staff, including my friend Marg, waited in their specially designated area. As the Queen walked along, I saw a white hat bobbing along and cameras rising to aim in that general direction. That must be the Queen, I thought. I shot a few frames.
The hat disappeared behind the trees, and suddenly big wigs were zipping eastward along the path in front of us. The Lieutenant Governor, the Premier. The crowd moved, squeezed together. I shot frantically. The only politician I didn't get was the Premier; he was literally a blur. But I was delighted to discover that I had clicked at the right time to catch David Onley, our LG.
At last, the moment we were waiting for: Her Majesty, the Queen. Pushy lady exclaimed that, as predicted, the Queen had stopped in front of the corgi and that she was wearing a peach hat. Young lady muttered imprecations to the person in front of her who was suddenly blocking her view. Heads reached higher in front of me, bent towards each other, as cameras rose up and behind began clicking madly. I looked for a peach hat. There! I held the camera overhead at first and pressed the shutter.
But that wasn't working; my arms were too tired by that time to hold still. So I did my best to look through the viewfinder, avoid being jostled, and find spaces between heads, bouffant hairdos, waving arms. I heard exclamations of that's the Governor General (holy cow, Michaëlle Jean is here, where? where?); Harper is here (can't see him, who cares, and where is Prince Philip?); the Queen! Suddenly I saw her, not just a hat, but her face. I clicked. Don't stop, I told myself. Just hold down the shutter. Hold it down, I said!
I saw the GG; I clicked. I saw the GG's husband; I clicked. I clicked just in case and caught Harper and Prince Philip, as I later discovered. And then the Queen was gone to the west and the south path where the troops waited for inspection and the cannons to boom. I had no idea from all the walkabouts I had seen on TV how fast the Queen moves. I had thought I'd have lots of time to point and shoot. Uh, no.
The crowd surged across the lawn west and south, where Her Majesty's motorcade was pulling up. I saw a space at the fence, but by the time I got there, it was filled. Still I was second row this time.
From the east on College came horses two by two, their riders wearing tall, white helmets, reminiscent of India. They carried fluttering medieval kind of flags. They trotted north towards us and halted. The lead guy drew his sword as we all waited.
After taking a few shots and realizing I would be too far from the Queen's car to see her, never mind take photos, I said excuse me, excuse me and moved backwards through the crowd towards a big old tree to lean against, to nervously examine my photos. Did I catch her? Did I get the money shot, as my friend Marg puts it?