Much will be written about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II over the coming days.
There will be stories about her life, reign, and death.
A fish story might be a bit different.
It was June 1973, and the Queen and Prince Philip were visiting Toronto and other Ontario cities during one of their 22 royal tours of Canada.
A singer in my early days, I was scheduled to join my colleagues in the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus to perform for the royal couple. The setting was Toronto’s High Park on the banks of Grenadier Pond.
The Heat of the Day
The weather on that summer day was spectacular. The sky was clear and the sun was blazing. The downside was temperature — hot as the hubs of hell with nary a breeze.
Trying to think cool thoughts was darn near impossible as we sweltered in the merciless heat while standing at attention, ramrod straight in choir formation in front of Grenadier Pond while awaiting the royal party’s arrival.
Finally, a gleaming limousine flying the Royal Standard could be seen purring along the winding road toward us. What a blessed relief when it rolled to a stop, its doors opened, and the royals appeared.
I remember thinking how they both looked bandbox-fresh and cool as cucumbers.
Sweltering and Singing
I don’t remember what the Queen wore. But I will never forget what I wore — 100 per cent non-breathable polyester, head to toe.
Just picture it: A white, long-sleeve, high-neck blouse with a frilly jabot at the throat tucked into the tight waistband of a full-length, turquoise, heavy-knit skirt. Black patent Mary Jane pumps with two-inch block heels anchored this fetching ensemble.
Sweating in this get-up, I was as close as I ever want to come to experiencing what it must be like to be swaddled in plastic cling wrap and microwaved on high.
At some point, we performed for the Queen and Prince Phillip. I don’t remember what we sang — I likely had heatstroke — but recall the couple’s graciousness in acknowledging our warbling efforts.
A Royal Fish Tale
Other than the ferocious heat and its effects, I recall that Her Majesty’s last act on that High Park visit was to lift a trap door on a large box that had been placed in the water of Grenadier Pond. When she did, everyone was treated to the astonishing sight of wriggling flashes of silver combined with airborne diamonds of water as 100 tagged bass burst from the box into the pond.
A delighted smile lit up the Queen’s face and the Duke laughed. Then she and the Prince gave us and other royal watchers a last wave before ducking into what was undoubtedly the coolest air-conditioned car in Canada and motoring away.
Once the royals were out of sight, my colleagues and I broke ranks. While there was nothing to be done about my matronly Mary Jane’s, I whipped off my long skirt under which I was wearing cotton shorts, and ripped open the neck of my blouse and rolled up the sleeves.
Was my conduct unbecoming? Probably. But it was as close as I got that day to feeling the same jubilant release of freedom as those fish swimming freely in the sparkling water of Grenadier Pond.
And all of it thanks to the Queen.
This remembrance was written September 8, 2022, the night the Queen died, and appeared in The Globe and Mail, September 13, 2022.
Heather Suttie is an internationally recognized legal market strategy and management consultant to leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide.
For 25 years, she has accelerated performance within law firms and legal service businesses — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — by providing consultative direction on legal business strategy, market strategy, management strategy, and client strategy. The result is a distinctive one-of-one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage culminating in greater market share, revenue and profits.