Happy Canada Day, everybody! To mark the holiday, we’ve got a look at new revelations about one of the Queen of Canada’s most intriguing maple leaf brooches.
In the spring of 1901, not long after the death of Queen Victoria, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York—better known to us as King George V and Queen Mary—embarked on an extensive tour of the empire. They were royal ambassadors representing George’s father, the new King Edward VII, whose health would not permit him to make such an arduous trip. The journey took George and Mary around the globe, with stops in Malta, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa, and Canada. The tour, which lasted from March to October 1901, was such a success that King Edward gave George and Mary the title of Prince and Princess of Wales not long after their return home.
George and Mary arrived in Canada for the final leg of the imperial tour in September 1901. Here, they’re pictured with the rest of the royal party during an outing in Ottawa’s Rockliffe Park. You’ll be able to spot Mary standing in the center of the photo, underneath an umbrella. She wore all-black clothing for the entire tour, as it took place during the royal family’s continuing mourning period for Queen Victoria. (You can see a portrait she posed for ahead of the tour here.)
In Quebec, Mary received a special bejeweled memento of the tour. On September 18, when the royal couple arrived in Montreal, a committee of local women presented her with an intricate maple leaf brooch made of gold, diamonds, enamel, and a single pearl. The gift was presented to Mary after a dinner at the home of Lord Strathcona, the Canadian High Commissioner in London.
This illustration of the brooch comes from a report in The Sphere from October 1901. The article also includes a detailed description of the brooch: “The jewel, which was presented to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall and York by the citizens’ committee as a souvenir of her visit to Montreal, is typical of Canada, whose emblem is the maple leaf, just as the shamrock is the emblem of Ireland. The jewel consists of a diamond spray or corsage pin. The design consists of a spray of six maple leaves mounted with diamonds. No two of the maple leaves are alike in form and colour. They are of solid eighteen-carat gold, beautifully enamelled in delightfully delicate tones.”
There don’t appear to be any extant photographs of Mary wearing the brooch during the 1901 tour, but she kept it in her jewelry box and treasured it. Now, Canadian royal journalist Patricia Treble has reported that the brooch was also packed in royal luggage for another important tour of Canada. In 1939, just before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth embarked on their own royal tour of the nation, Queen Mary wrote to her daughter-in-law about the enamel maple leaf brooch.
Treble shares that an April 1939 note from Mary to Elizabeth has surfaced at Spink, a London auction house. A senior consultant for the firm shared the contents of the note, which relate to the brooch. In part, it reads: “Darling Elizabeth. Here is the brooch of enamelled maple leaf given me by the Women of Montreal in Sept. 1901. Do wear it while you are there.” (An image of the handwritten note is available on Treble’s website.)
So, did she wear it? If Queen Elizabeth (better known to us as the Queen Mother) brought the brooch with her to Canada and wore it during the May/June 1939 tour, images of her sporting the jewel have so far proved elusive. There was extensive photographic documentation of the cross-country tour, but so far, no photographs of Elizabeth wearing the enamel brooch have surfaced. Here, she and King George are pictured at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on May 20, 1939. They’re standing with the Governor General, Lord Lord Tweedsmuir (better known as the novelist John Buchan) and his wife, Susan (who was also a published writer).
Here’s another picture of Queen Elizabeth taken during that stop at Rideau Hall. She’s wearing pearls, as she did for most of the tour, and a military badge. (I think this is the badge of the Toronto Scottish Regiment, of which she became Colonel-in-Chief in 1938.) Other photographs from the tour show her wearing other identifiable jewels, including the Diamond Maple Leaf Brooch (a gift from her husband ahead of the tour), her Aquamarine Art Deco Brooch, Queen Victoria’s Indian Circlet and the Crown Rubies, and the Teck Crescent Tiara.
So far, though, we don’t know whether she carried out Queen Mary’s wish and wore the enamel maple leaf brooch during the tour. Treble writes that she still holds out hope that an image will be found. “…it was a long tour and many of the photographs were taken from a distance,” she explains. “Still, hundreds of thousands of Canadians greeted the royal couple as they crossed the country. And personal photography was a popular hobby. Perhaps there’s a photo tucked away in a family photo album that showcases the [brooch].”
The brooch did finally resurface in Canada in 2010, during Queen Elizabeth II’s royal tour of the nation. The Queen wore the brooch for a celebration at the Cunard Centre in Halifax that June.
She also wore the brooch the following week, in July 2010, for a tour of the Research In Motion factory in Waterloo. On that occasion, her yellow jacket really allowed the color variations of the brooch’s enamel to stand out beautifully.
Note: Starting today, we’re making a slight change to the content calendar. Only one article will be posted on Fridays (just as on Saturdays and Sundays). We’ll continue to have two posts a day on Monday-Thursday. Thanks, everyone!