As British Columbians reflect on the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, one Burnaby man is sharing a memory of an unexpected close encounter with the monarch.
Flash back to 1983, when the queen was in Vancouver during an official visit that included stops in Vernon, Nanaimo and Victoria.
As a part of her visit to the city, the queen stopped at the Vancouver Aquarium, where she officially opened the new Graham Amazon Gallery.
Steve Oatway told Global News that a freelance photographer friend of his had received a tip about the royal visit to the facility.
“We dashed down there and there was thousands of people there already, and she had already gone inside,” he said.
The duo found a parking spot, and were walking along the east side of the aquarium when they spied three women standing near an unmarked emergency exit to the facility.
“We said to them, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ And they said, ‘Oh, the queen might come out that door.’ So we laughed and said, ‘Yeah right,'” Oatway recalled.
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“Seconds later, the door opens, and the queen looked around, with her little hat on … and I was the first one to see her and I went, ‘Is that her?’ Because she wasn’t wearing anything really fancy.”
Oatway speculated that the monarch had accidentally opened the wrong door, briefly slipping out of the sight of her handlers.
Unexpectedly, he said, she stepped towards them.
“She smiled, and we were dumbfounded. We said things like, ‘Oh your majesty, hello, welcome to Vancouver,'” he said.
“There was no security people, nobody around, not even other members of the public. So she walked up to us and we had this lovely little chat.”
Oatway said the queen’s security detail appeared within one minute, and the entire encounter was over in a flash.
But he said it remains burned into his mind.
“I’ll never forget it to this day. She had beautiful skin, I’ll remember that. And she made us feel relaxed, and it was just like talking to a neighbour over a fence. She was a lovely lady.”
“When you usually meet a celebrity or especially a head of state there are handlers and there are security people, maybe there’s military people, police and all this, and there wasn’t any. So I think all five of us felt very special because it was different.”
Oatway said he often thinks of the three women he shared the encounter with, and whether any of them has a photograph of the encounter. He has long since lost contact with the friend he was with at the time, he added.
Years later, Oatway became a tour driver with the Vancouver Trolley Company, and he said he’s told the royal encounter story to countless tourists while taking them through Stanley Park.
“This morning I was quite emotional when I heard what happened,” he said. “She’s a link to a part of our history.”