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Royal Presence

The 2002 Royal Visit of Her Majesty The Queen was a historic and meaningful time for Canada and all Canadians. We have had the honour of welcoming The Queen 22 times since her very first visit as The Princess Elizabeth in 1951. Canadians have fond memories of these visits as Her Majesty has visited every province and territory of Canada from coast to coast to coast. However, what is less well known is the fact that Canada has had an extended royal presence for many centuries and that the Royal Family has long enjoyed a special and deeply rooted relationship with this country based on a strong knowledge and affection for the land and people.

It was in the summer of 1786 that the first member of the Royal Family was to visit what is now Canada. Prince William, third son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, actually celebrated his 21st birthday as a young naval officer and captain of the Royal Navy frigate Pegasus in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. Sailors raised the Prince onto their shoulders in celebration as they carried him from one end of the ship to the other. Over the next two years, the future King William IV, who was to accede to the Throne in 1830, was also to enjoy lengthy stays in Halifax and Quebec City — a land that greatly impressed him based on its “magnitude, beauty and fertility.”

Three years later on August 11, 1791, Prince William's younger brother, Prince Edward, sailed down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City as commanding officer of the 7th Royal Fusiliers Regiment on board H.M.S. Resolution and H.M.S. Ulysses . Over the decade, the fourth son of the King and Queen was to hold a number of military postings, first in Quebec (1791 - 1794) where he was active in social and military life and attended the opening of the first parliament of Lower Canada (December 1792). He later served in Halifax (1794 - 1798) as Nova Scotia's Commander-in-Chief. He returned a year later as The Duke of Kent and Commander- in-Chief of all army forces in British North America (1799 - 1800). It was in Halifax that he undertook numerous major projects such as constructing new barracks and batteries, building roads and devising a telegraph system. He is still remembered in that city for his good deeds such as the construction of both St. George's Church and the town clock as well as improvements to the Grand Parade. “Canada's resident prince” will be forever honoured by lasting architectural memorials in both these Canadian cities and, of equal importance, as the father of Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent who was born in 1819. Upon the death of her uncle 18 years later (1837), the Princess acceded to the Throne as Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada (later to become the capital of the Dominion of Canada in 1867). Three years later, the Queen's eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, visited the new capital to lay the cornerstone for the soon-to-be- constructed parliament buildings. Here, as with all stops made during the triumphant three-month tour that included stops from St. John's to Windsor, the crowds were large and enthusiastic in greeting the heir to the Throne. His youthful charm and unaffected manner were infectious as citizens revelled in his engaging style. As an example, he ran the Chaudière timber sides on a raft during the Ottawa portion of the visit. It was to be an interesting note in Canadian history that, 57 years later, the Prince of Wales's younger brother Prince Arthur (the Duke of Connaught and Canada's Governor General) relaid the stone for the new Parliament Buildings to replace those that had been destroyed in the fire of 1916.

On November 25, 1878, the Marquis of Lorne was appointed as the fourth Governor General since Confederation. He was the husband of Princess Louise — the sixth child of Queen Victoria who was to have the honour of being the first female member of the Royal Family to cross the Atlantic and the third of The Queen's children to set foot on Canadian soil. (Her older brother Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, had earlier made brief appearances at Halifax as commander of the Royal Navy's North Atlantic Squadron.) As a youthful couple in their thirties, both the Marquis and Princess traveled extensively across the Dominion and were strong advocates of and actively promoted a strong united Canada within the British Empire. During their five years in Canada, they demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting the country, especially the vast agricultural potential of the Canadian west that was soon to be settled by a wave of immigrants largely from Eastern Europe. Their extensive visit to British Columbia in 1882 did much to reconcile the province to Confederation. In the summer of 1880, Princess Louise traveled widely with her younger brother and youngest son of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold, during his two-month visit to Canada. The Marquis and Princess were both self-proclaimed artists — he a poet and landscaper sketcher and she an accomplished writer, sculptor and painter. As devoted patrons of the arts and letters, part of their significant legacy to Canada was their major role in and contribution to the establishment of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts (1880), a precursor to the National Gallery of Canada, as well as the Royal Society of Canada (1882). In the autumn of 1901, Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York and the Duchess undertook a two-month visit to Canada from the east coast to the west. The eldest son of the recently crowned King Edward VII, the Duke (later King George V) and Duchess created incredible excitement seldom seen since the visit of his father in 1860. The Royal couple traveled extensively by train on their transcontinental journey and, in the process, greatly enhanced Canada’s reputation of technical excellence in transportation. Among many public engagements across the country, none was more memorable that the unveiling of a statue of the Duke’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In greeting and meeting with thousands of Canadians, the Duke and Duchess received an increased level of confidence as public figures. It was this self confidence that provided the Duke with the finely tuned skills he would eventually need before becoming king, which was to occur only nine years later in May 1910. However, before that moment was to occur, the Duke was to return to Canada once more as Prince of Wales in 1908 in order to join in the celebrations marking the tercentenary of Quebec City.

In 1911, the third and supposedly “favorite” son of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, The Duke of Connaught, was appointed as the tenth Governor General since Confederation. The Prince's first association with Canada actually began 42 years earlier when he spent a year with the First Battalion of the Rifle Brigade in Montréal (1869). The royal couple had also travelled across Canada in 1890 from west to east en route back to Britain from a posting in India. The Duke and Duchess quickly fell in love with the grandeur of the country and its landscape, especially the Rockies where they often vacationed. During his tenure as Governor General, the Duke's nephew Prince Albert (later to become King George VI) was to visit as was his young daughter Patricia. The Princess' enthusiasm, love of the outdoors and down-to-earth manner quickly endeared her to Canadians. An interesting aspect of Canadian military history is the fact that Princess Patricia lent her name to and presented colours (which she made herself!) to a regiment being mobilized to see action in World War I. “The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) - or “The Princess Pat's” has a proud record in the annals of Canadian military history and remains an integral part of Canada's permanent armed forces. In the early years of the war, the Duke and Duchess threw all their energies into patriotic and volunteer endeavours. Further, the Duke assisted in raising 15,000 troops for the second Canadian contingent and, based on his unfaltering sense of duty and patriotism to Canada, both he and the Duchess were regarded with the utmost admiration and affection during their five-year residence.

With the departure of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught in 1916, five of Queen Victoria's nine children had either visited or resided in Canada — Albert Edward, Alfred, Louise, Leopold and Arthur. Now, three years later it was to be Victoria's great-grandson, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) who was to captivate Canadians like none other. The dashing 26-year-old bachelor Prince embarked on a two month tour across Canada when he was forever surrounded by adoring crowds who wished to see and speak with him. The Prince's constant breaches of protocol in reaching out to people and creating “informal receptions” became a trademark of the visit, which included a strong emphasis on honouring returning soldiers — many of whom remembered his presence at the front. Engagements, both official and unofficial, varied from descending a silver mine to camping with Aboriginal guides to fishing for trout. The Prince's love of the landscape and people led him to purchase the EP Ranch at Pekisko, Alberta — a piece of property he was to own for four decades (sold in 1952) and visit five more times (1923, 1924, 1927, 1941 and 1950). In fact, the Prince of Wales returned to Canada in 1927, accompanied by his brother, Prince George, Duke of Kent, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation. It is an interesting detail of Canadian history that this visit replaced an earlier one planned to mark the Golden Jubilee in 1917 that was postponed due to the war that was raging at the time in Europe.

The fourth visit of The Prince of Wales occurred in 1927 and it was to be in less than ten years that he would become King Edward VIII (January 1936) and, subsequently, the Duke of Windsor following his abdication in December 1936. The next royal visit to Canada was to be like none other that had come before in that it would, for the first time, witness a reigning sovereign setting foot on Canadian soil. During May and June 1939, just three months before the outbreak of the Second World War, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) traveled the length and breadth of this country on what has come to be referred to the “coast-to-coast-and-back-again trip”. Everywhere they went, the royal couple generated excitement and pride because Canadians realized that they were here as the King and Queen of Canada. When asked by an inquiring veteran as to whether she was English or Scottish, Queen Elizabeth replied “Since we reached Quebec [point of arrival in Canada], I've been Canadian.” As they prepared to depart Canada on June 15, both the King and Queen were to remark that the Canadian trip had served to “made them.” For years to come, people would recall where they were when they first saw or spoke to the King and Queen. Beyond the many historic events undertaken, the visit cemented bonds of loyalty and affection between Crown and people that would stand the test of time and serve the country well, especially during the dark days of the Second World War that were shortly to arrive.

It was to be a few short months later that the last members of the Royal Family to serve at Government House in Ottawa took up residence. In June 1940, the Earl and Countess of Athlone began a six-year term of office. The Countess was Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of Prince Leopold who had visited Canada in 1880. She was to see such a span of history in her long life, from witnessing the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1896) to the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (1977). For his part, the Earl was both a great-grandson of King George II and Queen Charlotte and a brother to Queen Mary, wife of King George V. During the war years, the Athlones travelled across Canada extensively, undertook endless visits to munitions factories to encourage production and used Government House to actively assist with Victory Bond campaigns and entertain young cadets bound for the European theatre of operations. Throughout, the Earl was very active in encouraging closer Anglo-American relations, especially as they related to the ongoing war effort. It was yet another interesting story in Canadian history that Princess Alice made special arrangements for her cousin's daughter, then the Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, to spend the war years in Ottawa where her youngest daughter was born.

Five years were to pass before the next member of the Royal Family was to spend time in Canada, a trip that was to be almost as momentous as the King and Queen's in 1939. In October 1951, The Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and The Duke of Edinburgh landed at Dorval Airport in Montreal to begin what was to be an exhilarating five-week trip across Canada. Even with all the concerns of her father's illness weighing heavily upon her, Princess Elizabeth travelled some 10,000 miles and used every means of transport imaginable to visit with Canadians. The 25-year-old princess, now heiress presumptive, was determined to develop a strong awareness and appreciation of Canadians and of Canada - the oldest member of the Commonwealth. The now famous photo of Princess Elizabeth square dancing at Government House in Ottawa wearing western attire spoke volumes about her desire to know and experience Canada. This “getting-to-know-you visit” was to be only the first of her many visits to Canada, this one as Princess and her next as Queen of Canada (1957). However, it was also to be the first of numerous visits by all members of the Royal Family that continue to strengthen our understanding of the important role of the Canadian Crown in the life of our country, heighten our sense of loyalty and respect for Her Majesty and acknowledge our gratitude for her 53 years of dedicated service to Canada and all Canadians.

(Source: Department of Canadian Heritage)

    Updated: 2010-06-27