It is with much sadness that the National Arts Centre (NAC) learned of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We join Canadians, and people around the world, who mourn her loss, and share our deepest sympathies with the Royal Family.
At this solemn time, we look back with great admiration on her reign and legacy as our Queen.
Royal Visits in 1967, 1982 and 2010
Her Majesty has always been part of the National Arts Centre.
Our special relationship began on a sunny summer morning in 1967, during Canada’s Centennial Year. That’s when Her Majesty, in the presence of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and other dignitaries, unveiled a plaque and toured the future site of the NAC.
In her book Arts and Politics, The History of National Arts Centre, Sarah Jennings described the scene: “A crowd of spectators enjoyed a brief but lively outdoor artistic show that was presented on a temporary wooden stage erected the previous night on a patch of green sod hurriedly laid down in the middle of the muddy grounds.”
The celebration featured a special fanfare created for the occasion by renowned Canadian composer Louis Applebaum, as well as a proclamation by the iconic Canadian author Robertson Davies. The proud founding NAC Board chair Lawrence Freiman proceeded to show the Queen the half-built site to the cheers of blue-helmeted construction workers.
Later in 1982, during a four-day Royal Visit to mark the patriation of our Constitution, the Queen attended a command gala performance of top Canadian talent at the NAC. Her Majesty dazzled audience members as she took her seat in the flower-ringed Royal Box with Prince Phillip and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. (The NAC maintains the Royal Box in Southam Hall to this day.) After the show, NAC Director General Donald MacSween accompanied the Queen backstage and introduced her to icons such as singer-songwriter Angèle Arsenault, dancer Evelyn Hart, pianist Louis Lortie, comedian Dave Broadfoot, as well as opera singers Maureen Forrester, Louis Quilico and son Gino.
In 2010, thousands of well-wishers filled the streets around the NAC to greet Her Majesty as she arrived to unveil a life-size bronze statue of Oscar Peterson. The legendary Canadian jazz pianist, who died in 2007, had performed for the Royal Couple when they toured Canada in 2002 to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
After the Queen pulled a theatrical golden rope that raised a red velvet curtain and revealed the sculpture, there was an emotional moment as members of the Montreal Jubilation Choir began to sing Peterson's Hymn to Freedom with its healing lyrics “When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty, that's when we'll be free.”
At this time of mourning, we fondly remember Queen Elizabeth and her constant strength and steadfast leadership over seven decades.
The NAC will dedicate tonight’s performance of the NAC Orchestra to her memory. She will be dearly missed.