At first glance, it would have looked like any other 1970s-era backyard gathering — people lounging back on webbed lounge chairs, sipping drinks, enjoying a piece of coffee cake and enjoying the July Manitoba heat.
But that would be a royal oversight.
On those thrones of summer 52 years ago, on a potato farmer’s lawn on the prairie, sat England’s most distinguished family.
And as Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this year at the age of 96, memories and photos of that rare visit by a retired Manitoba teacher whose family hosted are resurfaced.
“It was surreal, of course, but it was so natural. Everyone was just so relaxed,” Brian Bailey recalled on Friday.
In July 1970, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, along with their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, were on a train journey across Canada, stopping in the southwestern city of Brandon, Manitoba. The next station should be a little further away from the radar, out of the public eye.
“They were looking for a place near Brandon where they could … find out what it was like on a Manitoba farm and most importantly have some time to relax,” Bailey said.
About 40 kilometers to the east, off the main line of tracks south of Carberry, was a siding for the royal carriage to depart from. Another mile away, up country lanes, was the Bailey Potato Farm.
For a few hours that Sunday evening and the following Monday, the royal family rode horses around the property, chatted about farming, sat back in the aluminum chairs and talked as if they were neighbors, Bailey said.
“I just walked around and took pictures of everyone as they communicated. They made you feel so comfortable,” he said.
The only other person with a camera was the Queen, whose Nikon can be seen over her shoulder in some of Bailey’s photos.
“She photographed as much as I did of us, of the landscape and the house,” he said. “She was like a tourist.”
The seeds of the visit had been sown about a month earlier. Provincial and royal family officials toured the property to make sure everything was in place. They even had to approve the cake that Bailey’s mother, Nora, wanted to serve.
Bailey believes his family was chosen because everything “just fell into place.” Aside from being close to Brandon but slightly off the beaten path, his father, T. Roy Bailey, was well known.
He had been named Mr. Manitoba Farmer in 1967 and through that met a man who was part of the 1970 Manitoba organizing team for the Royal Tour.
The royals went on a casual horseback ride Sunday night on horses brought from the RCMP music ride, which happened to be held for Manitoba’s centenary in Brandon. Along with the horses came a couple of Mounties as a safety detail.
The royals, who returned to the train carriage for the night, returned the next day for a more formal ride and tour of the estate and reviewed the crops, Brian Bailey said.
“And from there eventually they went into the backyard of our farmhouse and we had a garden party – just our immediate family and the royal family. It was very special.”
Queen Elizabeth, who is now celebrating her 70th jubilee, was just 18 years into her reign at the time. She is the first British monarch to reach the Platinum Jubilee milestone.
When Bailey was introduced to the Queen, he found that the royals were already well informed about his family. That probably helped the sense of lightness surrounding the experience, he said.
“She said, ‘And you’re the school teacher?’ And I said yes. Her next question was, ‘Well, what are you doing for the summer?'” Bailey said.
“They were exactly the kind of questions you would talk about if someone just came to your house for a coffee party. It was really, really special – such a normal, normal soul.”
While Elizabeth spent much of her time chatting to Nora about family, Philip spoke to Bailey’s brothers and father about farming.
As afternoon rolled around and distant clouds rolled in, it was time for the royals to go.
“Prince Philip and the Queen jumped into a car — and it wasn’t a sedan or anything, it was just … an old Chevy,” Bailey said.
Charles, then 21, and Anne, 19, had a playful argument over who would drive the second vehicle, Bailey said, adding: “I think Princess Anne won that.”
“They got back on the train and my mum and dad were there to say goodbye to them. And then it rained cats and dogs, so it was well planned.”
reunited in 2010
Bailey’s father reunited with Elizabeth and Philip 40 years later during a royal visit to Winnipeg.
When he heard the couple would be back in Manitoba, Bailey emailed the prime minister until the provincial chief of protocol called back and said, “This is something we need to look into.”
Nora had died several years earlier, but T. Roy Bailey had set up a special seat for him when the Queen unveiled a statue of herself on the Manitoba Legislature grounds.
The Prime Minister had a few quick words, “and as soon as he had finished, [the Queen] straight to T. Roy, said Bailey.
“The first question [Philip] The question was, ‘How are the crops, Roy?'” Bailey said.
“They all had a quick little visit and [Dad] was tickled pink. He was almost 95 years old at the time and said to me afterwards: ‘I don’t have much left to do, do I?’”
T. Roy passed away a few months later. Philip died in April 2021.
Through it all, Bailey has followed the royals like they were relatives.
“You feel like part of the family – you really do. There’s a certain closeness that we’ve had all these years,” he said.
Bailey will always cherish the memories of these visits. Also in a special place are two humble but tangible memories – the napkin and teacup used by Elizabeth at that garden party 52 years ago.