Friday, August 12, 2011

Royal Visits to Canada - A Brief History

Image: Chris Jackson/St James's Palace
When Prince William and his new wife Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently toured Canada, their visit highlighted the long association that the royal family has with Canada. A relationship that began back in 1786 with another Prince William.

The first visit by a British royal took place in 1786 when the future King William IV, came to Canada as part of a naval contingent. Since then there have been royal visits by many members of the royal family, included amongst them, several future monarchs. Many came as part of military service, some for personal visits, and some became Governor Generals of Canada. Most have come for official visits and to mark significant national events.

Normally royal visitors are accompanied by their spouse. Although they have been infrequent, there have been some visits that have been family affairs. In 1927 when Edward, Prince of Wales and his brother, Prince George visited Canada to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the Confederation. In 1970 the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne came to tour the Arctic. There would be another family visit in 1976 when the Queen came to open the Olympic Games in Montreal, which Princess Anne was competing in the equestrian event. She was watched by her parents and her three brothers, the only time the entire royal family has been abroad in one place. In 1977, during a visit to Alberta, Prince Charles was joined by Prince Andrew to watch the Calgary Stampede. The last official family visit occurred in 1991 Prince William and Prince Harry joined their parents in Ontario. In 1998, Prince Charles made a personal visit to Vancouver accompanied by Prince William and Prince Harry. The most recent sibling visit was in 2009 when Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie of York attended the Toronto International Film Festival.

Queen Victoria was said to be rather fond of Canada, though she never visited it. The first visit by a reigning sovereign took place in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stepped foot on Canadian soil, in Quebec, and began a six-week coast to coast tour from Quebec to Vancouver and back to Halifax, 9,000 miles, in 40 days.

The present Queen first visited Canada as a princess in 1951. She was 25 at the time. Young, glamorous, with a handsome husband, they were the equivalent of Charles and Diana. Such was the interest in her visit that any little detail was made into news, such as one headline in the Globe and Mail titled “Princess Bringing Crinolines!” The tour was five weeks long and they received a rapturous welcome, having 13,000 school children sing O Canada for them and it is estimated that 200,000 people saw the royal couple.

Since that first visit, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have travelled through every province and territory in Canada. Visiting for many significant national events. In 1957 she became the first monarch to open parliament in Ottawa. Wearing her coronation gown for the event, she quoted the words of the first Elizabeth: ‘Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown that I have reined with your love.” During this visit another historic event occurred when the Queen made her first televised broadcast, a precursor to the televised Christmas speech the same year.

During the 1959 visit the Queen, along with President Dwight Eisenhower, opened the St. Lawrence Seaway. She was in the early stages of her pregnancy with Prince Andrew and it was reported that she looked ‘rather off color’ at times. This pregnancy wasn’t revealed until after the tour was completed. The tour lasted 45 days and the royal couple visited every province and territory. A remarkable feat for someone in the early stages of pregnancy. It is rather apt that this child, Prince Andrew, would himself, later be closely associated with Canada when he attended Lakefield College for six months in the 1970s.

The Queen's next visit would occur in 1964, a few months after the birth of Prince Edward. And this time her arrival would not be so rapturously greeted, as she was met by demonstrators chanting and singing demands for a Quebec independent of the Canadian confederation. The Queen, however, was praised for her bravery in visiting despite these protests.

In July 1967 the Queen and Prince Philip would visit to mark Canada’s centennial celebration of Confederation. The Queen cut into a giant cake, the majority of which was plywood with icing on it. Prince Philip incidentally, is the most frequent visitor, having visited Canada 43 times, including 22 trips with the Queen.

The Queen made what was one of her most significant visits in 1982 both for herself as monarch and for Canada itself when she signed the act proclaiming the Canadian constitution and Canada’s independence from Britain.

Another significant visit that the Queen would make would be in 1992 when she celebrated Canada’s 125th birthday and the 40th anniversary of her accession. In 2002 she would visit in her Golden Jubilee year, where Canadian’s turned out in record numbers to celebrate right along with her. She visited in 2005 and most recently in 2010. There has been some speculation that these might be her last visits. But health permitting she is reportedly planning return in 2012 to mark 60 years on the throne.

© Marilyn Braun 2011

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