History

Vermont connection to the Queen: swans, and maybe a yacht

Betty and Sam, the ‘Royal Swans’ of Swanton, a gift from Queen Elizabeth II

By Guy Page

Queen Elizabeth II never visited Vermont, but her swans and (local lore says) her yacht did.

The beloved monarch who died yesterday in Scotland at age 96 visited Boston (105 miles by car from Guilford) in July 1976, returning as it were to the scene of the crime of American independence. She visited Montreal, Quebec (about 60 miles from Highgate) many times, including the dedication of Expo ‘67. She and her royal yacht Britannia sailed past crowds of cheering Americans in Massena, New York (105 miles from Alburgh) in 1959.

But Elizabeth herself never set her royal foot in the Green Mountain State. 

Her swan Betty, though, has lived here since 1961. She and her mate Sam (named after Uncle Sam) have held court over the Swanton Village Green since 1961, their reign interrupted for just a few years.

Their arrival in Swanton was the idea of a Quebec businessman.

The Swanton Chamber of Commerce maintains the Swanton “Royal” swans, the town website says. These swans were a gift from the Queen of England in 1961 – shipped to the U.S. by jet. This bestowal was the brainstorm of a Montreal public relations man with a camp in Swanton, who wanted to do something to celebrate the town’s 1963 bicentennial. 

Harry Gibbons, working for the International Air Transport Authority of Montreal, arranged for a pair of swans to be sent from a naturalist trust in Norfolk, England with the Queen’s blessing, to Swanton, where they spend summers on the green and winters with the MVU Agricultural Department. 

Swanton refers to them as the Royal Swans, but their scientific classification is ‘Mute Swan.” According to Vermont Fish & Wildlife, the Mute Swan is an invasive species. 

Sam and Betty reportedly died of old age before the summer of 2016. Two years later a new (not related) Sam and Betty moved into the enclosed pool in the village green. 

Did Queen Elizabeth’s yacht visit Colchester? Probably not. Malletts Bay has been a popular international boating destination for almost a century. “Ice Cap to Interstate,” the 1963 bicentennial town history by Ruth Wright, reports that in the post-WWII era:

“An occasional seaplane and larger boats, including luxurious yachts owned by Montrealers and Long Islanders were usually stalled at the Champlain Marine docks. Here in 1959 the Adgemir VIII, being readied for use by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at the dedication of the St. Lawrence Seaway, was moored.”

The story has become local legend in Malletts Bay, where this reporter was raised. It has not been substantiated. A quick search of the Internet shows no record of the Adgemir VIII. The royal yacht Britannia is a sea-going ocean liner that barely squeezed through the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Might the A8 have been one of the Montreal yachts whose owner hoped, at least, to ferry the Queen from land to her yacht? Or to act as one of many unofficial ‘escorts’? 63 years later, we may never know. 

Vermont’s most enduring point of physical contact with Queen Elizabeth II is with the Canadian currency bearing her image. Canadian finance officials will keep these bills and coins in circulation. A decision has not been made whether to issue new currency with the image of King Charles. 

Categories: History

1 reply »

  1. We saw the swans in Swanton a few weeks ago when we attended the annual classic car show there. We have visited the swans a few times over the years.

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