The 1937 British Coronation: George Hunter's First Step Towards a Career in Photography

By Alexandra Wells
Canada Summer Jobs Position

George Hunter’s photographic career spanned over 70 years. His interest in photography dates as far back as 1937, when he was selected from his school to attend the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

At the age of 15, George first took part in an election process at his high school, Norwood Collegiate, to choose which student would be selected to travel to London, England to attend the Coronation and other related events. He addressed the Superintendent of the Norwood Schools, his teachers, and fellow students to explain why he thought he should be the student voted to represent his high school at the historic events. While going through George Hunter’s textural records during the CHPF summer archival initiative, we discovered journal pages containing George’s original electoral speech where he asked people to vote for him.

“I am sure that I will get the utmost good from this trip as I am using a hundred dollars of my own money and if there is any Scotch in me you may be sure that I will get full value for all the money spent.”

School Notes by George Hunter  c. 1937

School Notes by George Hunter

c. 1937

According to his personal records, after being selected by his peers and school officials George bought his first camera, a Voigtländer Bessa, specifically to record the trip. Found along with the above page were other handwritten notes by George which journaled his impression of the overseas trip and his unique experience.

“One of the first and most memorable days of the trip was the one in which we set foot ashore in England. I think that day will live long in the memory of all us Canadian boys who got off the boat in the morning and took a little English train from Southampton up to London. Each boy was all eyes that day as he wanted to see everything at once. Everything was so new and different and it seemed just as though we were in another world. We passed through much very picturesque scenery and were amazed at the greeness of the countryside.”

The largest event of the trip however was the Coronation itself, which occurred on May 12, 1937 - coincidentally one day after George’s sixteenth birthday. In his recollection of the historic day George writes;

“… rain began to fall in torrents but nobody seemed to mind it. Many rows of troops from every colony in the British Empire passed before us and when the Canadian Mounties came along all the Canadian boys and girls cheered at the tops of their voices. When the King and Queen passed sometime afterwards we hardly had any voices left for them although quite an applause was given. As we stood there watching the procession it gave us a wonderful thrill and made us feel proud that we were British Subjects. When the Royal Coaches passed into the courtyard of the Palace, the people started swarming towards the gates and began to shout, “We want the King, we want the King.” The doors of the balcony opened and the people all cheered but when they saw it was only a butler they began yelling “We want the King” again. After half an hour the King gave in and the whole Royal Family came out on the balcony.”

George’s personal notes even mentions seeing the daughters of the newly reigning couple, one of which is of course the now long-standing Monarch, HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

“The two little Princesses had the time of their lives waving their hands at the crowd.”

George’s journal goes on to record other events and festivities that he attended in England after the Coronation. One such event was the Naval Review where he and other children were assigned to different Battleships, from which they would view the Royal Yacht and more celebrations on the following day. Even then, George had a talent for finding adventure and in his notes he wrote;

“Owing to some mistake which later proved beneficial to us, the boat we were to board was not notified of our coming and consequently did not send out a [yacht]. The tender docked beside a giant Aircraft Carrier and we were told to come aboard while a [yacht] would be made ready to take to our ship the Crusader. We spent an hour going through this vessel seeing some of its wonderful mechanisms. The Vice Admirals [yacht] was used to take us across the water to the Crusader. The First officer was roused out of bed and we had to explain to him just who we were and why we were there as they didn’t know a thing about us. We visited the Captain next morning and after a chat with him he gave us permission to do anything we liked on the ship. He must have trusted that we wouldn’t pull anchor and sail down to the Mediterranean or up to the Baltic.”

It’s clear that George’s habit of attracting unique situations began at a young age. Once he returned to Canada, George was asked to address the South East Manitoba’s Teachers’ Association to tell them about his overseas experience. He used the above pages from his journal in his address, as well as photos he took during the trip. This experience sparked George’s unending desire for seeking adventure and ultimately led to his lifelong career as a photographer.