When the Queen met Prince George — the B.C. city, not her great-grandson

Today the Prince George most associated with Queen Elizabeth II is her six-year-old great-grandson.

But 25 years ago, she was in the City of Prince George, B.C., to officially open Canada's newest university — the country's first in more than two decades.

Courses at the University of Northern British Columbia started in 1992, but the official opening was Aug. 17, 1994, when the Queen arrived on campus wearing a canary yellow dress. 

"The concept of this university is no less exciting than the land in which it is set," she told the crowd of more than 3,000 people, as well as those watching at home as CBC broadcast the event live. "You are fortunate to learn and teach in such a matchless setting."

Built on the edge of a forest overlooking the city, UNBC was created to reflect a more rural setting than universities in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

Advocates believed regional campuses would attract and retain more young professionals to the communities they served. The slogan of "in and for the north" was adopted as a way of reflecting UNBC's mandate.

'This is the hour of the northern people'

Former federal cabinet minister and future B.C. lieutenant governor Iona Campagnolo was UNBC's first chancellor.

She paraphrased The Lord of the Rings in her welcoming remarks, saying, "This is the hour of the northern people, when we arise from our quiet forests to shake the towers and councils of the great."

"Something important happened in Prince George this day," UNBC President Geoffrey Weller told the crowd. "We are opening a special place dedicated to learning."

The Kermode Choir of Terrace sang God Save the Queen and members of the Lake Babine Nation danced and drummed.

UNBC

Lydia Stephens traveled more than 600 kilometres from her home in the Nass Valley to represent the Laxgalts'ap village council at the ceremony.

She remembers thinking, "One day I am going to graduate from this university."

That vow came true earlier this year when, at age 63, she earned a BA in First Nations studies. 

She completed courses while working at the Nisga'a Valley Health Authority as a mental health and addictions counsellor — a feat that wouldn't have been possible if not for UNBC's satellite campuses in the northwest.

Another future graduate who saw the Queen was Erin Beckett. Then five years old, she presented the monarch with a bouquet of flowers.

UNBC

Beckett said she didn't realize at the time that it was a significant event. One of her strongest memories of the day is a "less-than-positive" trip to the hairdresser.

Her father, Brad, has a more cheerful recollection.

"Everybody was dressed in their finest," he said. "It was just such an amazing day."

The Queen also officially opened the new Prince George Civic Centre downtown and was given a toy logging truck by the city before flying out to continue her Canadian tour.

It is the last official visit a member of the Royal family made to Prince George, following a 1983 appearance by Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

In 2016, Prince William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, visited B.C. with their own Prince George, but they did not stop in the city that shares his name.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Prince George as Queen Elizabeth II's grandson. In fact, he is her great-grandson.   Aug. 17, 2019 10:55 AM PT

More stories from CBC British Columbia North

Subscribe to CBC Daybreak North on CBC Listen or your favourite podcast app, and connect on FacebookTwitter and Instagram