A couple with ties to the British Royal family were reminded how small of a world it really is after arriving here Thursday, Sept. 13.
When the Earl and Countess of St Andrews stopped at Philip’s Cafe to get the key to Rosedale Manor bed and breakfast where they stayed, there was a young woman in the corner with her back to them, wearing headphones.
The couple later learned the young woman was British and bicycling across Canada to raise money for SOS Children's Villages UK, a charity of which Lord St Andrews is a trustee. (see “Raising Awareness story on this page))
"Sadly we didn't get to talk to her because we only found out later," he said. "Anyway, we got her email. We'll write to her."
The St Andrews’ were here to help celebrate Placentia's 350th anniversary.
The town is Lady St Andrews’ birthplace.
She was born in Placentia in May 1958, while her father, a civil engineer, worked on the America Base at Argentia.
She left as a toddler and this is her first time back.
Her husband is the great-grandson of King George V. He's also the eldest son and heir of the Duke of Kent, and a cousin to Queen Elizabeth II.
Lady St Andrews says her father enjoyed working here and her mother told her about looking at the sea through the window.
"Both said people were very friendly, and I think my father was sorry to leave and would have liked to have stayed longer," she said.
Besides the memories her parents shared, she said a lot of her insight into her birthplace had come from black and white photographs.
"As we were about to land, my first thought was ‘it's in colour’," she joked in an interview just before a civic dinner held in their honour and the Placentia Bay Cultural Arts Centre.
Lord St Andrews considered their trip a wonderful opportunity to see his wife's birthplace and learn about a place he knows through books.
"Newfoundland, obviously, is a rather romantic name," he said. "It's so much a part of English history. You read about it, all the great voyages and the fishery. I have a great interest in the Atlantic connections, and all the history of fishing and so on. It's wonderful to have a chance to be here and see it for myself."
The St Andrews arrived Thursday evening and explored parts of the Placentia area including O’Reilly House Museum and Castle Hill National Historic Site.
Friday evening, the town of Placentia held a dinner in their honour, with special guests that included Archbishop Martin Currie, Placentia Mayor Bill Hogan, Avalon MP Scott Andrews and Placentia-St. Mary’s MHA and Minister of Justice, Felix Collins.
The dinner, emceed by Councilor Wayne Power Jr., included theatre performances by Placentia Area Theatre d’Heritage (PATH), a screech-in for Lord St Andrews, making him an honourary Newfoundlander, along with two presentations to Mayor Bill Hogan - the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and a Municipal Service award for 30 years in public life.
Mayor Hogan took to the stage earlier in the evening to welcome Lady St Andrews to her place of birth.
“Lord St Andrews is lucky to have married a Newfoundlander,” said Mayor Hogan, with a trace of a grin, drawing laughs from the crowd. Addressing Lady St Andrews, on a more serious note, he said, “Your visit makes us better, and we are pleased to welcome you home.”
MHA Felix Collins pointed out the connections between Placentia and the ancestors of Lord St Andrews, and reiterated what Mayor Hogan said, that this is her home.
“Although she didn’t grow up here, she was born here, and we are happy to embrace her. This is your home across the pond.”
When Lady St Andrews addressed those gathered at the dinner, she said how happy she was to have traveled to her place of birth, a place she had heard much about from her parents.
“There were three things my parents impressed on me about where I was born: it was a beautiful place, the people here were friendly, and the people were also very hard-working.”
She noted her father was Austrian and there, hard-working people are also highly valued.
She thanked the town of Placentia for inviting them to Placentia.
“We couldn’t be happier, and as I said earlier, we couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.”
“And as of a few minutes ago, I am very pleased to have finally married a Newfoundlander,” said Lady St Andrews, drawing much applause at her remarks.
On Saturday, the couple traveled to Cape St. Mary’s Bird Sanctuary before attending the launch of the Voices of Placentia Bay Festival Saturday evening in the town square in Placentia.
On Sunday, they attended mass at the Holy Rosary Parish in Freshwater, where Lady St Andrews was baptized. They also got to enjoy a real Newfoundland meal of Jigg’s dinner Sunday before they left for other parts of the Avalon peninsula.