Did You Know Queen Elizabeth’s Visit Launched Detroit’s Freedom Festival?
As the world still mourns the loss of Queen Elizabeth II who passed away on Thursday, September 8, at the age of 96, many are reflecting on her reign. Although she traveled the world extensively during her many years on the throne, the Queen never made a stop in Michigan. Well, not technically, but she did come close.
It was 1959 when her majesty and husband Prince Phillip gave Michganders a close encounter of sorts during a visit to Windsor. The Queen and the Price had arrived in Windsor by train and then departed by ship to make their way down the Detroit River. The duo traveled the river on her 412-foot Royal Yacht Britannia, at the time considered the largest in the world. The ship was docked just across the river from what is now Hart Plaza.
The voyage on the Detroit river gave Michigan residents their closest glimpse of the Queen and thousands of American's lined the riverfront to wave to the beloved leader. According to the Detroit Free Press, it was only the second time the then 33-year-old Queen has visited Windsor. She was in the area to open the St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks and canals connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the intention of the visit was "royal business", the Queen's appearnace also helped launch one of Detroit's most popular festivals to date. During her visit thousands of Detroiters and Canadians lined the riverfront to watch fireworks and celebrate the very International Freedom Festival.
The festival was a multi-day celebration in late June marking Canada Day on July 1 and the American Independence Day on July 4. Detroit, Although the tradtion still contiues, in 2007, the Festival became two separate events, Windsor Summer Fest, and Detroit River Days.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the royal couple would return to Windsor once again in 1984.