Remembering Louise Alberta
Unfortunately, she hated Canada at first, or at least Ottawa, mostly because she missed the social scene of England. But she did have fun.
After Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848-1939), the sixth child of Queen Victoria, married the son of the Duke of Argyll, her husband was appointed to the position of Governor General of Canada. It was a contentious marriage because she was expected to marry one of Europe’s many princes but insisted that the family needed new blood and suggested the family look to the British aristocracy instead. It was love, then love faded, perhaps from a lack of children, and they spent much time apart, but in the last years of her husband’s life when he became ill, she rediscovered their affections and was traumatized when he died.
Their arrival in Canada was met with mixed feelings, some thinking that a democratic Canada was not in need of a queen’s representative, particularly one married to one of the queen’s daughters. For their part, they arrived at their new home, the stately Rideau Hall, and found it relatively unfurnished; they had to decorate it on their own.
Louise was an unusual royal for the breadth of her pursuits. She spent many years as her mother’s personal secretary. She was a good athlete and told those who were critical of her activities that she would outlive them.
She was a more than competent painter and sculptor and also played the piano and danced. An early supporter of the women’s suffragette movement, she also fought against class distinctions. For example, her balls in Ottawa were open affairs; one only had to have the appropriate clothes and sign the visitor’s book. Inside, many were scandalized to see that she insisted on the removal of the silk cord meant to separate her and her royal party from her guests.
Princess Louise enjoyed Ottawa’s winter sports of skating and sleighing but was involved in an accident with the latter when her horses bolted and the carriage overturned, her husband falling atop her. The accident left her with a ripped earlobe and she was seriously concussed and shocked.
Eventually she returned to England but her memory is maintained in Canada in four royal regiments as well as Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains and the province of Alberta; she demurred at having the province itself named Louise and instead suggested her last name, Alberta, in memory of her father.
Lake Louise today is known for the spectacular mountains and mountain lodge that overlooks it. It was one of several built by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s president, William Van Horne, who said, “If we cannot export the scenery, we shall import the tourists.” The railway intended to transport cargo increasingly took visitors to his grand hotels in Lake Louise as well as to others in Calgary, Banff, and Victoria.
In summers, as has been the case for more than a century, visitors now canoe the lake and walk the forest paths and climb the mountains–the original hotel hired Swiss climbing guides to encourage guests to safely do so. In winter, there are surrounding ski runs–it is one of the largest resorts in North America–and ice skating on the lake.
She never visited the lake that bears her name but one wants to believe that somewhere, among each winter’s skaters, there twirls the contented ghost of Princess Louise Alberta.