Queen Elizabeth II receives Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, 1959

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, wearing the plain blue and white cotton dress and little blue straw hat, which she picked out specially for Queen Elizabeth II’s luncheon on the Royal Yacht Britannia, in June 1959

During her years in exile in Canada from1948 to 1960, the youngest sister of Russia’s last tsar Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (1882-1960), maintained contact with European royalty and aristocracy. She dined with earls, countesses, duchesses, and princesses when they visited Canada, and received gifts from Finland, Denmark, and Japan on her name day and at Easter and Christmas.

In the 1950s, Olga lived in in Cooksville, Ontario[1]. Although She lived modestly, her tiny five room house on Camilla Road was the setting for visits from Olga’s British royal relatives. Among those were Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent[2] who visited Olga’s home between her royal engagements during her Canadian tour in August 1954, and Louis and Edwina Mountbatten[3], who on an official tour of Canada in August 1959, flew from Ottawa to see their cousin[4].

On the morning of 29th June 1959, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh sailed into Toronto harbour onboard HMY Britannia as part of their Canadian tour.

During their 2-day visit to Toronto, Her Majesty would be hosting a luncheon on HMY Britannia, and requested the presence of the the now widowed[5] Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna – her first cousin twice removed and a first cousin once removed, respectively[6] – and her elder son, Tikhon Kulikovsky [1917-1993].

PHOTO: HMY Britannia docked in Toronto Harbout, 29th June 1959

Olga’s neighbours in Cooksville were much excited about the impending royal visit. Olga complained to her biographer Ian Vorres, “They were at me morning, noon, and night, urging that I should buy a new frock . . .they do not see that I am far too old to start buying new clothes.”[7]

After endless argument and persuasion, Olga agreed to go to a dress shop in Toronto. Once there, however, she insisted on being given full liberty of choice. She picked out a plain blue and white cotton dress for $30 dollars. A friend who accompanied her suggested a little blue straw hat and one of two accessories. As it so happened, the dress was on sale, and Olga, feeling very happy about saving money on the purchase, agreed.

On the day of the luncheon, all of Olga’s neighbours gathered on Camilla Road to see her off that memorable morning. “All this fuss, just to go see Lizzie and Philip!” she said.

Katherine Keiler-Mackay, wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Lieutenant Colonel John Keiler-MacKay, had different concerns than Olga’s wardrobe. She told Patricia Phenix that prior to the luncheon, “[Olga] looked nervous . . .We were all afraid the Queen might overlook her and she might be hurt.”[8]

Keiler-Mackay need not have worried. Although there were 50 persons invited, Grand Duchess Olga was personally and warmly welcomed by the Queen, who personally escorted her to the head table.

She enjoyed lunching with the Queen, but we will never know what the royal cousins talked about that day. Was the subject of the failure and betrayal by Elizabeth’s grandfather King George V’s withdrawing asylum to the Imperial Family in 1917 ever brought up? Or the brutal murder of her brother and his family by the Bolsheviks in July 1918? Given the setting and festive mood of the event, it is hardly likely, however, we will never know.

Upon the death of Olga’s sister Grand Duchess Xenia in May 1960, a telegram of condolence was sent to Olga by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Paintings by Olga are today part of the collections of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

It is interesting to note, that in later years, Olga recalled her meeting Prince Philip, the future Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) during a visit of Queen Olga of Greece, who left her own exile in Italy to see her god-daughter Olga and the Dowager Empress at Hvidore, Denmark. The Greek Queen brought Prince Philip, her six-year-old grandson along. “I remember young Philip as a wide-eyed youngster, with blue eyes sparkling with humour and mischief. Even then, when a mere child, he possessed a mind of his own, though he seemed rather subdued in the presence of my mother. I served him tea and cookies, which vanished in a split second. I could never have imagined then that this lovely child would one day be the consort of the Queen of England.”[9]


[1] Cooksville, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto (now amalgamated into the city of Mississauga). Olga’s house on Camilla Road, has survived to the present day

[2] Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (1906-1968), later Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, was a Greek princess by birth and a British princess by marriage. She was a daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia [both first cousins of Emperor Nicholas II], and a granddaughter of King George I and Queen Olga of Greece. Princess Marina married Prince George, Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary, in 1934. They had three children: Prince Edward, Princess Alexandra, and the current Prince Michael of Kent (born 1942).

[3] Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979). was a maternal uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and a second cousin of King George VI.

[4] This would be Grand Duchess Olga’s last royal visit, she died in Toronto the following year on 24th November 1960. She was interred next to her husband, in York Cemetery, Toronto, on 30th November 1960

[5] Nikolai Kulikovsky died on 11th August 1958. When Olga married Nikolai (a commoner) in 1916, she was forced to renounce all rights to the Russian throne as well as those of her descendants.

[6] Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was a cousin of the Queen’s grandfather, King George V.

[7] Vorres, Ian. The Last Grand Duchess, [Charles Scribners and Sons, New York] 1964., pg. 208-209

[8] Phenix, Patricia. Olga Romanov: Russia’s Last Grand Duchess [Penguin Books, Toronto] 1999, p. 239

[9] Vorres, Ian. The Last Grand Duchess, [Charles Scribners and Sons, New York] 1964., pg. 171

© Paul Gilbert. 9 September 2022