PAssages – July 30, 1958 – Princess Margaret’s visit to the Skotheim farm

Peder and Alvena Skotheim (on right) greet Princess Margaret and Prime Minister Diefenbaker as they disembark from helicopter on the Skotheim farm.

by Joan Champ

Royal visits to Prince Albert and points north are not that common, but when John G. Diefenbaker was Prime Minister, Prince Albert and Waskesiu were on the itinerary for a visit of Princess Margaret to Canada. The sister of Queen Elizabeth arrived in Canada in mid-July 1958 for a six-week, coast-to-coast visit designed to show off the most interesting parts of the country from the point of view of a summer tourist. According to the Prince Albert Daily Herald, it was the stop at the Skotheim farm at Spruce Home, 26 kilometers north of Prince Albert on Highway 2, that members of the travelling press agreed was “the single most newsworthy event” of Princess Margaret’s visit to the region. It was there, it was reported, that she had her closest contact with “ordinary” Canadian people.

“Informality was the keynote,” the Daily Herald reported of Princess Margaret’s 45-minute visit with Peder and Alvena Skotheim and their ten children. With the Skotheims guiding her, “the princess broke completely from the official party to enter a cattle barn, a chicken house and a building housing pigs, one a fat sow about ready to give birth.” After the visit, Mr. Skotheim told the Herald that Princess Margaret “asked quite a few intelligent questions – I thought for a princess – about the animals.”

The Princess, accompanied by Prime Minister and Mrs. Diefenbaker and Lieutenant-Governor Frank L. Bastedo, also went into the Skotheim home for tea. She “walked through the farm family kitchen, complete with cistern pump and wash basin,” the Herald reported. “She met a Saskatchewan farmer, his wife and children, as they really are.” Mrs. Skotheim had prepared some special Norwegian pastries, which she served along with tea made with distilled water that had been shipped from Regina.

Despite the “intimate and human touch” that so impressed the visiting media, the Daily Herald was quick to point out that the Skotheim family was “anything but ordinary.” The Skotheim farm had been chosen as a stop for the Royal visit by the MLA for Prince Albert, Hon. L. F. McIntosh, Minister for Municipal Affairs for Saskatchewan. According to the Herald, McIntosh had two or three farms in mind, but it was Peder Skotheim’s “great progress” in diversified and mixed farming led the Minister to recommend the Skotheim farm.

The Skotheims had moved to their farm at Spruce Home in 1933 after having been driven off a farm in southern Saskatchewan by drought. They spent their first winter in a one-room log cabin, and over the years made many improvements to their farm. “The immaculate white buildings, with their cheery red and yellow trim, the well-kept yard surrounded by maple, poplar, caragana, lilac, and a magnificent weeping birch, all attest to the hours of painstaking toil and loving care that have gone into the building of this attractive little farm,” Vera Simenson wrote in the Daily Herald on the eve of Princess Margaret’s visit. With 80 head of cattle, 120 purebred Yorkshire hogs, and about 300 acres under cultivation, Peder and Alvena “recommend a farm as an ideal place to bring up children, where there is an opportunity to work and play in a healthful atmosphere.”

Mrs. Skotheim said she was “thrilled almost speechless” when the news came that she would have the great honour of “playing hostess” to Princess Margaret. The ten Skotheim children, ranging in age from 4 to 24, helped with the arrangements for the Royal visit. The family’s only regret was that they could not share more of the big event with their friends and neighbours. The Princess arrived on the farm by helicopter. “If she was travelling by car, it would enable a lot more people in the district to get a good view of her,” Mrs. Skotheim pointed out. The general public was not allowed onto the immediate farmyard during the visit.

The tour of the Skotheim farm was just one part of Princess Margaret’s two-day visit to the Prince Albert area. She arrived at the airport at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, July 29th, drove to the exhibition grounds in the city where 10,000 people attended a formal welcoming ceremony, then flew by helicopter for an overnight stay at Waskesiu in the summer cottage of A. A. Murphy, owner of CFQC in Saskatoon. The next day, after a 25-minute driving tour of the Waskesiu townsite, the Princess flew to the Skothiem farm. She then departed for the Prince Albert airport, and flew on to Toronto.

Thank you to the staff and volunteers at the Prince Albert Historical Society for their assistance in the preparation of this column, and for providing access to more than 300,000 negatives in the Prince Albert Daily Herald collection.