Originally compiled for display at the Maple Ridge Public Library, “Ridge Royalty” recalls pageants and celebrations in the history of Maple Ridge to describe ideas about femininity at mid-century.
While a visit from true British royalty was a cause for jubilation and pride in the (provincial) town, Maple Ridge proposed that its own girls and young women could be objects of fascination and cultural refinement. Pageant girls wore elaborate and elegant costumes in the course of impressing community judges, some male, with their perfect habits and lively volunteerism. Winners were crowned and offered prizes by local businesses, while some went on to compete in higher levels of contest – provincial or even national.
In 1958, Maple Ridge received Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and the younger sister of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. British Columbians were staunch loyalists just five years after Elizabeth’s coronation and within memory of the threats made to England during the Second World War. On a tour to celebrate the centennial of the Colony of British Columbia, Margaret was to visit Fort Langley – the location of the proclamation by Governor Douglas announcing the colony – and decided to include a visit to Maple Ridge’s St. John-the-Divine church, dating to 1859. Arriving on a red carpet via seaplane to Port Haney, she ascended to a motorcade from the Fraser dock past youth groups in uniform, the town’s junior band, and 1958 Blueberry Queen, Anne Seigo, who presented the princess with a piece of needlepoint – a portrait of St John the Divine.
In the 1950s, the Blueberry Festival took place each August to celebrate local farm produce. The event included a ceremony to select and crown the next Blueberry Queen of Maple Ridge. The contest began with local organizations nominating “deserving” young girls to be recognized at the festival. The contestants would be invited to a meet-and-greet event at the Haney Odeon Theatre, located near the present-day intersection of Lougheed Highway and 225th Street. With little time to prepare the contestants would be expected to impress the judges, typically local business owners and figures, with their knowledge of politics and current events. Alice Brecht, Blueberry Queen 1956, was acknowledged specially as an expert blueberry picker, making the ideal candidate.
May Day, or Victoria Day, was another celebration that seamed together ideas about royalty and girlhood. Ostensibly celebrating the birth of the famously long-reigning British monarch, committees in Maple Ridge would prepare throughout the spring between 1919 and the Second World War for the parade, maypole dance, and May Queen ceremony. The coronation ceremony arranged young girls, typically ages 8-11, from each of the district’s elementary schools in competition: one would be chosen by draw as May Queen, with the others becoming Maids of Honor during the coronation.
While beauty pageants were smaller in the 1970s, reflecting new attitudes in North America about women’s role in society, the 1980s saw a return to popularity of these events. In 1984, the Ridge Meadows pageant, sponsored by Valley Fair Mall, began with a contestant carwash, which was followed by a swimsuit competition at the municipality’s new leisure centre. Here, contestants were judged on “appearance, poise, and confidence”. A question-and-answer period intended to interrogate each contestant’s intelligence and personality occurred immediately before the coronation ceremony. Miss Ridge Meadows would ride with “Miss Congeniality” on a decorated float and antique car in the community’s Mountain Festival Parade. This recalled the earlier Blueberry Festival parade, when beauty queens rode atop the hoods and trunks of long American cars down the middle of Lougheed Highway.
Between 1948 and 1991, the culmination of local beauty pageants was the Pacific National Exhibition competition grand prize. The young woman crowned here would receive a trip across Canada, all expenses paid, during which she might visit oil drilling operations, industrial farms, gold mines, head offices, and the Canadian parliament, also stopping at every provincial capital along the way. The purposes of winning a diplomatic tour played on ideas about the role of royalty, even as the tour itself bookended a fairytale exercise in make-believe.