B.C.’s British merchants, customers mourn Queen’s passing

The British Home’s owner Lenny Entwistle, left, and store clerk Elly Fenton often welcome customers wishing to speak about Queen Elizabeth II. Upon her death they expect more conversations about the Queen's life. | Graeme Wood

Upon hearing of the Queen’s death Thursday morning, Vancouver resident Jennifer Hnatiuk thought she needed a little comfort and connection to her British heritage.

“I felt like I needed my British roots. It’s an end of an era; it’s security; it’s stability; she’s been on the throne for 70 years. That was always stable, and it’s sad,” said Hnatiuk of Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy while shopping at Richmond’s British Home.

At the shop’s cash register was clerk Elly Fenton, who said an increasingly steady flow of customers were coming in to get a taste of Britain at the shop that sells classic comfort foods, such as beef pies and candies.

“A lot of people come in here for the memories and what they grew up with. Often, they talk about the Queen, and especially recently as she hasn’t been feeling well,” said Fenton.

Hnatiuk recounted the time she had an encounter with the Queen nearby the Fairmont Hotel in Edmonton in May 2005.

“I’m standing there, minding my own business and six security officers surround me. I’m like, ‘Am I OK? Is something wrong?’ And then, all of a sudden, I see a massive parade of people around the Fairmont and I saw the Queen and she was like, ‘Oh hi, how are you?’ But I was too close to her, I guess,” said Hnatiuk.

The British Home’s owner Lenny Entwistle, who was born in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England — just south of Edinburgh, Scotland — said it’s been a difficult time for her customers at the shop and her hair salon on nearby Chatham Street in Steveston Village.

“I went into my hair salon this morning and told everyone and there were tears all around,” said Entwistle, who said childhood memories were, in part, marked by the Queen.

“The Queen was part of everything; every school, every church, everything; everyone had a picture of the Queen,” said Entwistle.

“It’s just so devastating. It’s just so fresh. I think time will tell over the next few weeks and after the funeral. It’s a huge impact.”

Of what may come, Entwistle added: “I think we will have a fine leader in King Charles. I think we can move on.”

Not far from the British Home Englishman Iain Mackelworth is pondering the impact of the Queen’s passing on his upcoming trip back to England with friends.

At his Steveston Barbers hair salon, where Mackelworth's phone is "ringing off the hook," the barber said the Queen’s strength was to bring people together.

As Mackelworth put it, she had an “ability to change with the times and not get stuck in one situation.”

“It’s someone who’s always been in the media and someone who’s been with you your entire life. It’s just a bit of a weird empty thought,” said Mackelworth, who never did see the Queen in the flesh during his time in South London, before moving to Canada.

Now, Mackelworth may be embarking on a historic trip to London this month.

“We’re going to be in central London a few days before the funeral, I would imagine, and all my mates are all getting together over there,” he said. 

“It's going to make the trip just a little bit different.”