The Renaissance of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy
Guest blog by Carolyn Harris, owner of the Royal Historian blog
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will be visiting Canada to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee from May 20-23, 2012. Their visit coincides with the Victoria Day long weekend, which honours a monarch significant for both the longevity of her reign and her influence over Canadian history. Queen Victoria is the only other monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, presiding over a parade and thanksgiving service in London, England, in 1897.
In contrast to Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, which is being marked by visits to all the Commonwealth realms by members of the royal family, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee brought the British Empire to London. The Canadian Delegation headed the “Colonial Procession” with the newly knighted Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier riding in a carriage flanked by the Canadian Cavalry, the Toronto Grenadiers and the Royal Canadian Highlanders (1).
The Canadian people were celebrating a sovereign who had exercised a profound influence over the development of the nation. When four of Canada’s ten present day provinces, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia achieved confederation as the Dominion of Canada in 1867, they were united by their loyalty to the crown. The first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald brought together the diverse interests of these regions by reminding them that the Queen wished for them to unite as a self-governing Dominion (2). According to legend, Queen Victoria also selected Ottawa as the capital of this new nation as it is sufficiently inland from the United States, in the event of an invasion. Her son-in-law, the Marquess of Lorne, served as Governor General from 1878-1883, residing there at Rideau Hall with Princess Louise.
Ottawa was one of the settings for the most recent royal visits to Canada as Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrated Canada Day there in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh also visited Halifax, Winnipeg, and Toronto, while William and Kate included Montreal, Prince Edward Island, Yellowknife, and Calgary in their itinerary. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will be visiting the Gagetown Canadian Forces Base at Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, Saint John, New Brunswick, Toronto, Ontario, and Regina Saskatchewan, four places that were not included on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s itinerary. The Diamond Jubilee tour will be the fourth royal visit to Canada in as many years.
This abundance of royal visits is part of the revival of popular interest in Canada’s constitutional monarchy that has occurred in the past few years. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to visit Canada on their first overseas tour as a married couple symbolized the future of the constitutional monarchy in Canada and the wider commonwealth. The newlyweds were acclaimed for their fresh approach to the traditional royal tour, engaging in long, informal conversations with ordinary Canadians and participating in sports such as Dragon Boat racing and street hockey.
The Duke of Cambridge charmed audiences with his speeches that displayed both admiration for Canada and its institutions and a self-deprecating sense of humour regarding his command of the French language. The Duchess was praised for choosing fashions that ordinary women could imagine themselves wearing and for her warmth toward six year old cancer survivor Diamond Marshall, who presented her with flowers upon the couple’s arrival in Calgary. The large crowds and enthusiasm that greeted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at every stop along the tour were reminiscent of the future Edward VIII’s travels in Canada during the 1920s and King George VI’s and Queen Elizabeth’s cross Canadian tour in 1939 rather than the post Second World War royal visits, which received less positive attention.
The political circumstances following the Second World War minimized the popular perception of the royal family’s role in Canada. After the war, Governors General were native-born Canadians rather than members of the British aristocracy who often had direct ties to the royal family, such as the Duke of Argyll. Although the Queen was present for such significant events in twentieth century Canadian history as the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and the repatriation of the constitution, these events were largely seen as part of Canada’s coming of age as a nation by the wider public. A growing distance between Canada and its constitutional monarchy appeared to be part of this process.
Resentment of the crown in Quebec during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s as a symbol of the British conquest of French Canada further complicated popular perceptions of the monarchy. In 1964, the Queen faced hostile separatists in Quebec City who turned their backs on the royal procession. When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invited the Queen to open the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Quebec Premier René Levesque attempted to dissuade her from accepting this invitation. As recently as 2008, the Queen was not invited to Quebec City’s birthday celebrations out of sensitivity for Quebecois popular opinion. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s successful visits to Montreal and Quebec City in 2011 did much to improve the popular perception of the royal family in Quebec.
In recent years, there has been an outpouring of eloquent defenses of the crown by authors who argue that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s popularity on their 2011 tour is part of a wider understanding of the crown’s significance to Canadian history and politics. In The Secret of the Crown: Canada’s Affair with Royalty, journalist John Fraser provides an eloquent defense of both the continuing importance of the crown to Canada and Prince Charles’s suitability to be the future King of Canada. Since Prince Charles will be representing the Queen for the Canadian Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the 2012 publication of this book is well timed to influence the Canadian response to Prince Charles’s visit.
The themes raised in The Secret of the Crown, including the special relationship between the crown and certain groups within Canadian society such as the Armed Forces and the First Nations, the roles of Governors General and Lieutenant Governors, and the significance of royal tours, are expanded upon in the articles included in the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies Volume, The Evolving Canadian Crown, while Nathan Tidridge explains precisely how the constitutional monarchy functions in Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy.
Canada is currently experiencing a revival of popular interest in its constitutional monarchy. The Jubilee tour by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will be the fourth royal tour of Canada in the past few years after a long period in which royal visits to Canada received little attention. If the royal couple’s visits to New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan are well received, the Renaissance of the Canadian crown will continue as a new generation engages with Canada’s constitutional monarchy.
1. Diane Peters, “A Celebration of Empire: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee” (Wilfrid Laurier University Library: 1997), p. 25-29. pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/caml/article/download/…/2873
2. Richard Gwyn, John A.: The Man Who Made Us. The Life and Times of John A. MacDonald, Volume One: 1815-1867 (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2008), p. 370-389.
Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne, as Viceregal Consort of Canada, public domain.
The Queen at Queens Park, Toronto, in 2010 by Wikimedia Commons member Ibagli, public domain.
The Duchess of Cambridge in Ottawa, July 2011, by Flickr member pat00139 and used under Creative Commons licence.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Dundurn Castle, Ontario, in 2009 by Wikimedia Commons member Ibagli, public domain.
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