By Al Bossence
(I am not an annoying name dropper. But years ago I wrote a piece for a magazine which was looking for stories on “Famous People I Have Met.” My friend Jim Hagarty asked me if he could reprint it on his blog so after long and tense negotiations (over coffee), I agreed. Keep in mind I didn’t actually meet most of these people.)
I think it was sometime in the mid ’50s I was probably 10 years old or so when I first saw the Queen of England.
It was a fleeting glimpse as she and the Prince of Wales passed by in an open car on William Street, Stratford, Ontario, Canada.
But, I was sure she saw me. After all, I was a young 10-year-old boy with a big imagination so why wouldn’t she have seen me? The roadside was jammed with throngs of cheering people as far as I could see and the Queen of England had just become my friend. It would be another 45 years or so before the Queen and I would lay eyes on each other again.
Canadians will recall some of these next names …
I remember seeing our then-prime minister, John Diefenbaker, when I was a small boy in public school. He stopped in the village of Tavistock, Ontario, where I grew up and gave a speech by the town’s water fountain. I related this story to a friend of mine from Tavy and he said, well don’t you remember Pierre Elliott Trudeau coming through town a few years later doing the same thing. Alas, I didn’t. Must have been one of those days I was playing hooky.
In 1967-68 I was a doorman/car jockey at a then posh Tower Hill apartment building at the corners of St. Clair and Spadina Avenue in Toronto. The president of the Canadian Cancer Society lived there and one night held a big entertainment function. A fellow doorman and I were at the big front glass doors as the limousines rolled up. We smartly stood at attention and swung open the doors for Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden. I remember how she glowed as she walked by with all her jewels on and how handsome Lord Snowden looked. Later that evening, four of us had to move a heavy piano from a hallway into the suite where the party was going on because pianist Peter Duchin was playing. There was a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player there that night as well but not sure who he was. Might have been Carl Brewer.
Sat at a table next to Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in a little Halifax coffeehouse back in 1966. I was in the Navy at the time. His career was just in the process of revving up and he was playing there. I remember their table was pretty “lively.” Saw him once more after that in concert at The Center In the Square in Kitchener, Ontario. I think it was sometime in the ’80s.
Saw rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins at the Stratford Coliseum in the early ’60’s when he was a really wild and crazy guy. Some members of his band went on to form “The Band” who in later years backed Bob Dylan.
While living in Stratford Ontario back in the ’90’s I drove for a company called The Stratford Airporter, taking people to and from Pearson International Airport in Toronto. I drove singer and harpist Loreena McKennit several times as well as another lady from a Canadian group called Farmer’s Daughter. Actors from the Stratford Shakespearian Festival frequently traveled as well: Bill Needles, Martha Henry and Rod Beattie were a few of the travellers.
Saw Johnny Cash and June Carter at Toronto’s Ontario Place as well as Tina Turner and Cindy Lauper. Been to concerts in Toronto by The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, ZZ Top, The Eagles, and Neil Young. Saw Roberta Flack on stage at the Festival Theatre in Stratford. Listened to Moe Kaufman playing The Swinging Sheppard Blues in Stratford as well.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s there was a well-known stage actress at the Festival in Stratford by the name of Pat Galloway. Before moving to Bayfield in 2002, I did a lot of landscaping for Pat and her husband Barnhard at their home near St. Marys, Ontario. Really, really nice down-to-earth people. Fellow stage actors William Hutt, Douglas Chamberlain and Douglas Campbell would sometimes be there. In Pat’s heyday we heard that there were some pretty lively parties on their estate with various in town Hollywood actors popping in.
Oh yes, about me and Queen Elizabeth and our second meeting. I think it might have been in the summer of 1998. The Queen was in Stratford again and I heard she would be heading off to Woodstock, Ontario, in the early afternoon. I knew that I may never see her again so I hopped on my motorcycle and headed over to a spot out in the country along Highway 59 just a few miles north of Hickson, Ontario. Nice open spot and no throngs of people this time.
Finally, the normal traffic going by ended. No cars at all. I waited and waited and then one car went by and few minutes another one followed a few minutes later by another one. This went on for about five minutes. Had I missed her?
Then I saw the convoy of cars coming fast. First one, two or three and then there she was and she was sitting by the back window on my side of the road. Light blue outfit with a matching blue hat.
I was standing beside my motorcycle as I waved. No mistaking it this time, she looked right at me, but alas, there was no recognition in her eyes from 45 years before.
Whoooooooosh, the car was by in seconds and she was gone.