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Thoughts on the 2012 Royal Visit

What our latest opportunity to host the royal family says about the emerging Canada of Stephen Harper.

By one o’clock in the afternoon on May 22, two entirely opposing groups of spectators had formed in the Distillery District awaiting the arrival of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. One of them lined Trinity Street all the way down to Distillery Lane: camera-toting clumps of people checking watches and straining to see back toward the main gate as broadcast crews took position. Elsewhere, another group—much smaller, but no less intent—had already come together at the south end of the area, across the parking lot from where the government reception was about to begin. They too were there to see the royals, but placards with messages like “Sever the Ties,” and the watchful presence of a riot squad, indicated that their reasons weren’t entirely welcoming.

In its small measure, it was a condensed sampling of the reception Charles and Camilla have encountered throughout their 2012 tour of Canada, from New Brunswick to Toronto and on to Saskatchewan. And for Canadians, it was also a taste of our country’s lamentable priorities.

You really only had to see the procession of His Royal Highness through St. James Town to get the gist of this. One of the highlights of the royal stopover in Toronto was a round trip from the Yonge Street Mission through St. James Town using the peoples’ conveyance: a TTC bus. The way much of the media had been previewing the spectacle, you’d think Prince Charles would be waiting at Parliament and Gerrard for a bus with tokens in hand, ready to ride the Rocket through our streets like a true Torontonian. Instead, escorted by a parade of units from the OPP, the Toronto Police, and the RCMP, an Orion VII Next Generation hybrid-electric TTC bus pulled up, its route signage replaced simply with “HRH: St. James Town.” Traffic slowed to a near-standstill. Meanwhile, police formed a human barricade along the length of the sidewalk.

Once this repurposed, private motorcade got underway, there were very few intersections in a three or four-block radius not under tight control. At Spruce Street and Sackville, a motorcycle-mounted officer from the OPP stopped us with a shriek of his whistle, making way for this cavalcade of the state as it approached. When it rolled through, lights blazing and sirens squawking, the sight was a little unsettling—a small army of police, the executors of state authority, leading a vehicle carrying a representative of the Canadian state itself as if it were a chariot.

What was unsettling was knowing that this chariot belongs to the public, and what the appearance of a public ride privately serving the embodiment of the state says about Canada in 2012. Specifically, it raised questions of who is ultimately serving as figurehead for whom.

Of course, chartering a public TTC bus is something anybody with the coin to afford it can do. But with the Conservatives of Stephen Harper, there’s a very fine line between “chartering” and “commandeering,” and a royal tour like the one we just experienced felt like more than a celebration of the Queen’s 60th year of rule. For Stephen Harper, returning to Canada’s monarchist roots all over again is an integral part of his stealthy re-invention of Canada, something that reached a climax with the near-annihilation of the Liberal Party in May 2011 and continues with the incremental re-calibration of our national culture. Recall the gigantic, 40-yard Canadian flags draped across the playing field at last year’s Grey Cup, cannons booming, with Peter McKay taking a very ham-fisted half time bow for Canada’s military role overseas. Recall the supplanting of Bill Reid’s Haida Gwaii with a depiction of Vimy Ridge on the new twenty-dollar banknote.

Like these, the royal visit to Toronto was a chance to roll out Harper’s idea of Canada as the new normal, from east to west—and with the Queen visiting in 2010, or the royal honeymoon of 2011, Harper has had a chance to do it more than preceding governments. In 2012, however, Charles and Camilla had the dubious honour of visiting a Canada where the monarch, for the first time in a long time, has ceased to be a figurehead—at least for the ruling party.

In a dockside Halifax ceremony last August, McKay announced the return of all things “Royal” to national defence after forty years. In 1968, the government of Lester B. Pearson unified the Canadian military under the singular title of “Canadian Forces,” with the navy as “Maritime Command,” the army as “Land Force Command,” and the air force as “Air Command.” But since August, 2011—a month after portraits of the Queen replaced Quebecois works at Foreign Affairs, and a month before a deadline for all Canadian embassies to prominently display the same—these simplified organizational titles have become history, replaced by the “Royal Canadian Air Force,” the “Royal Canadian Navy,” and the “Canadian Army.”

Even in the media packages distributed to journalists before this week’s royal visit, the federal government’s emphasis on the monarchy as a matter of present-day nationalism, not bygone heritage, was all over the pages. “In Canada,” it read, outlining the objectives surrounding immigration events in Saint John, New Brunswick, “we profess our loyalty to the Sovereign, not to a document (such as a constitution) or an inanimate object (such as a flag) or a geographic entity. Canada is personified by the Sovereign just as the Sovereign is personified by Canada.”

“In return for their allegiance, the Canadian state, personified by our queen, guarantees to protect their rights and freedoms.”

But the role of the monarchy in Harper’s Canada goes beyond ceremonial niceties like swearing allegiance to the Crown. It is part of an aggressive, muscular campaign to force a narrative (back) into the Canadian mainstream, one that exalts Commonwealth heritage over that of Francophone or multicultural society. It presents the pot into which the Harper Conservatives expect new Canadians to melt, and the template for patriotism—along with other jingoistic talking points—that landed Canadians are expected to embrace. When the state rides by in a TTC bus, its escort making as much noise as possible, Canadians are expected to stand there, jaws appropriately agape, and watch it pass.

“Stephen once said to me that a conservative party in any country ought to be a party of patriotism,” Tom Flanagan, a mentor to Stephen Harper and a professor at the University of Calgary, told the Canadian Press. “He is now creating a conservative version of Canadian patriotism.”

For a couple of days this week, that version made the rounds throughout Toronto. To be fair, there were some memorable moments, and some great gestures on the part of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Charles’s visit to UforChange, now famous for images of the future King spinning vinyl with headphones on, comes to mind. It was also undeniably excellent for such an embodiment of the Canadian state, so presented, to turn out at the Yonge Street Mission to begin with, highlighting his “Seeing is Believing” program, partnering business leaders with at-risk youth. Happily, we can report that the Prince and Duchess seem like stand-up people. Somewhat conflicted, we can also report that very little of the 2012 Royal Tour, for reasons of national context, seemed to have much to do with the royals themselves.

What we’ll remember best, though, is an exchange that happened over the noise of idling police engines and the general din of traffic outside the Yonge Street Mission, when Charles was getting ready to ride the Rocket.

“That’s Prince Charles!” a woman shouted to the driver of a school bus, held up in traffic at the snarled intersection.

“Well, tell him to get out of the street! He’s blocking traffic!”

CORRECTION: May 25, 2012, 11:05 AM This post originally stated that the image of Prince Charles spinning vinyl while wearing headphones was taken at the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University, when in fact it was taken at UforChange. We regret the error.


  • Djpilibbossian

    - the day started peaceful and quiet, then became a little busier :
    - danp.

  • Anonymous

    “Stephen once said to me that a conservative party in any country ought to be a party of patriotism”
    I resent the implication that “patriotism” = “conservative”, not least because it means that “not conservative” = “no patriotism”

    • Anonymous

      That’s exactly the message he wants to send.

  • Anonymous

    Personally, I see no problem brushing off the dust and acknowledging this chapter of Canadian heritage and identity. Worry when it displaces modern Canadian values of multiculturalism and common weal and our own achievements – the changes so far are superficial and far less worrying than his changes to science reporting and environmental research, women’s affairs, transparency, and democratic legitimacy.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the cringeworthy lead photo!

  • therandomdialer888

    No matter how hard I try, I can not laugh at the fact that the head of our government is a rich old lady who lives on the other side of the ocean in a castle, and thinks that her and her family were magically chosen to rule over England. It’s silly, archaic, and about time to leave this part of our history behind us.

    • stopitman

      You know this isn’t the 1600s anymore, do you, because I’m certain they know it isn’t…

    • Anonymous

      The Queen is surely aware that her family rules England not by magic, but because the British parliament invited her great great great great great great great grandfather, George I, over from Germany to take the throne in the Act of Settlement 1701. And technically Buckingham Palace is not a castle.

    • DefinitelyHype

      It is NEVER time to leave our history behind us.

  • iSkyscraper

    This is a seriously biased article, and I don’t even vote Conservative.

    The re-renaming of the armed forces is a terrible example to make if you want to come up with some Dictator-King Harper Destroying Multicultural Canada theme. Everyone understands now that the well-intended unification efforts were, with the benefit of hindsight, a mistake. There is a reason why few nations followed Canada’s lead on this, and the reversal has been taken a step at a time over decades. (Remember when we had sailors in green uniforms with “Colonels” commanding a ship?) The service name change was simply the last logical step and it was going to happen eventually no matter who was at Sussex Drive. You’ll note it was simply a restoration of the old titles – no one went out and decided to make it the Royal Canadian Army – it never was.

    Canada has always been the most loyalist of the Commonwealth nations (Australia has far more Republican tendencies) and there is nothing political about that, it’s just fact. When the Queen or future King actually show up in the home of the Princes’ Gate and Queen St and the QEW and the King’s Highways and all that and sees all of five or six sites, it’s a rather big deal. We may not have too many brass bands and dress-whites-marines to show off, but whatever show of royal force we can muster is not only reasonable but appropriate. (And, by the way, the whole pomp and ceremony was quite a joke by American standards – I mean, a bus with police escort? Bike cops in shorts?) There is less hubbub in Britain at such events, but they see the royals every day and are used to handling their security. And can you imagine if there was a security incident here, how that would look? Of course they go the Full Monty on the escort.

    I think it’s a perfectly reasonable angle to note the uptick in appreciation for the royals, part of a very long-term rehabilitation, and it’s nice to see Charles experience more than just a horse race or inside of a Parliament when he visits. But please spare me the divisive political spin about the “country’s lamentable priorities.”

    • Michael Kolberg

      Missed opportunity to say Full Mountie.

      • Anne Douris


    • Michael DiFrancesco

      Actually, the name change is the first step in the military change. The existing, unified military structure hasn’t changed any; only the names. See below:

      “The branches were renamed in 1968 when they were unified under one central command named the Canadian Armed Forces. That unified command is expected to remain in place when the old names are restored.

      The naming of the units has raised some debate in recent years. A group of veterans has been pushing the federal government to go back to the pre-1968 designations for the navy and air force and launched a petition calling on it to ‘restore the royal honour.’”

      The renaming is strictly a Tory move. I’m apathetic to it either way (Royal Canadian Air Force sounds better than Air Command, at least), but it’s important to note that it’s just a superficial change.

  • DefinitelyHype

    I’m proud of our connections to the royal family. I’m proud of the role the royal family has played in the creation of Canada, and their devotion to our country. I am LESS proud of our “multiculturalism”, which seems to me like an attempt to suppress any idea that Canada had a culture or values before 1960. I did not vote conservative, but I’m glad that they are actually doing things to put TRUE Canadian culture and history into the spotlight. I think dragon dances, chicken tandoori and celebrating Cinco de Mayo are fun, but how is that Canadian??? If the Conservatives keep it up, I may actually vote for them….

    • Anonymous

      Canada is being reduced to a colonial backwater that has an over-abundance of a particularly nasty form of oil.

      Just so you understand what you would be voting for.

      • Anonymous

        I’d say the opposite – Canada used to be a colonial backwater, and is now a prosperous, liberal country. (Which happens to have some oil, sure, but moist of its wealth comes from elsewheere).

        • Anonymous


      • DefinitelyHype

        No, we WERE a colonial backwater, but with British institutions we have been steadily evolving to this day. I see no reason to abandon institutions that have worked so well for us.

    • Anonymous

      they are actually doing things to put TRUE Canadian culture and history into the spotlight

      Such as?

      I think dragon dances, chicken tandoori and celebrating Cinco de Mayo are fun

      But instead you suggest … ?

      • DefinitelyHype

        I would suggest all those things that you would make fun of. Such as the royal family, which is more Canadian than any of those things I mentioned. And we are a young country and culture. I’m glad to see Harper and his conservatives are ready and willing to spotlight Canadian culture.

        • Anonymous

          You’re assuming what I would make fun of, and that I would do that, which makes your argument a non-starter. The royals are a lot of things besides (technically) Canadian. So what distinctively/exclusively Canadian things should we celebrate and what has Harper (a man in thrall to foreign conservatives and foreign business interests) really done?.

          • DefinitelyHype

            The fact that you seem not to know what Canadian things we should celebrate is perhaps the best argument I have for approving of Harper’s spotlighting of “Canadian things”. I blame multiculturalism as one of the main reasons people can’t see Canadian culture themselves. I am not about to make a list of Canadian “things”. As Canadians, we should already know them and be interested in creating more. Multiculturalism is both an obstacle to this, and an excuse behind which we hide, in order not to make an effort to distinguish ourselves from other nations. We just say “Canada is a multicultural society”, and the immigrants make fun of us for it.

            A Quebecer never would have asked that question you just asked. But their society makes a conscious effort to develop and highlight their own cultural creativity. “Multiculturalism” prevents Canadians from doing the same.

          • Anonymous

            The fact that you cannot provide any examples of what you think would be better, more Canadian examples just proves how much of a solecism your argument is, which basically amounts to ‘I don’t like foreign things that are recent arrivals, just “Canadian” things, oh, and things that came here from England before – those are okay’.

            I already know plenty of Canadian things, despite your attempts to pin the blame on multiculturalism (which, last time I checked, includes inherently Canadian things and things we inherited from the UK). I’m interested in hearing what YOU have in mind, not your presumptuous blather about what I would ‘make fun of’ or what I ‘seem not to know’.

            Highland dancing? Bannock? The Robertson screwdriver? Ginger ale? Standard time?

            What? Be specific.

          • DefinitelyHype

            To start, I don’t believe we “inherited” anything from the UK. What we have from the UK is what immigrants brought with them from the UK and then used to build this country, adapting it to our needs (the governor-general, the creation of a Legislative Assembly, then adapted to our House of Commons, with no House of Lords – and in the provincial cases, not even a Senate). My list of “Canadian things” would include anything that Canadians have done or created or practise that distinguishes us from other nations.

            For example, no, I don’t believe that Highland dancing is Canadian. However, the kinds of Gaelic music sung in the Maritimes, because these songs and rhythms are apparently not sung anymore in Scotland or Ireland MIGHT be considered Canadian. We didn’t invent beer, but no one dare say that beer is not part of our culture, and that we make some of the best in the world. Our government system is definitely Canadian because the founders of this country used it to create this country, and we still choose it over others. That’s Canadian. Our authors, musicians and film makers produce Canadian culture. Hockey, obviously, is incontestable. We have no great culinary traditions yet, but I suspect that harks back to our UK roots, and the fact that we are a young country. Your suggestion of the Robertson screwdriver, or standard time or even the discovery of insulin, etc are all examples of our entrpreneurial/scientific culture. THESE are the things that should be spotlighted and celebrated, and NOT the traditions and cultures of foreigners brought to us by Newcomers to Canada.

            It doesn’t matter what culture someone comes from, it only matters what they contribute to our COLLECTIVE, unique Canadian culture. By saying that we are “multicultural”, we are saying that Canadians have not produced a homegrown culture of our own, when that is not true. We are simply suppressing it in our consciousness in favour of the cultures of foreign countries.

            In the case of the royals, the royal family has been intimately linked with Canada’s evolution even before we became a nation. They have been with us, and obviously supportive of us, since the beginning (the loyalists, etc). It is fine to suggest that we “update” our culture every now and then, but that is not how a culture develops – by throwing things away. The royals are here. They are ours. They contribute to CANADIAN culture. Let’s accept that and keep growing as we have doing with the royals for hundreds of years.

            Sorry for the “lengthy” response.

          • Anonymous

            Well, that’s a bit better than assuming to know what I would mock or be ignorant of. But the only distinction between what you accept and what you reject is that the former came earlier. Something like insulin came about ultimately because of someone who immigrated, and if we are going to celebrate innovation and creativity we cannot limit it to the past. We are going to be producing more innovations now and in the future and immigration will have played a part in it. As far as established cultures and traditions are concerned, while these things are fairly static, there is room to have things from different countries as components of a broader national culture without resorting to seeing it as multicultural. The things that more established and homogeneous countries pride themselves on are often the product of cultural borrowing and combining – that applies to our political system as well, for example.

          • DefinitelyHype

            I have nothing against immigration. The more the merrier. But the message we are sending to new Canadians, the world and young Canadians with this multicultural “policy” is that chicken tandoori is just as Canadian as pork pie, poutine or maple syrup. And it’s not.

            Yes, innovation is crucial, but we have to establish certain parametres. Beer is one such innovation. It was brought over by, I assume, Germans, but we made it our own. And we’re a richer nation because of it. If the makers of chicken tandoori turn it into Maple chicken “something” and that is then adopted by Canadians, that would be another example. I mean, why couldn’t we develop a “Toronto dish” which is unique to TO? Doesn’t matter if the inventor barely speaks English. If they invented it here, and Torontonians adopt it, it’s Canadian.

          • Anonymous

            Beer is one such innovation. It was brought over by, I assume, Germans

            Ah ha ha, no. The history of beer brewing in Canada began with the English and French. Granted, there were Germans involved, but much later and not to anywhere near the same extent as in the US or, say, Mexico.

            I don’t see why a dish unique to Toronto couldn’t have its initial origins somewhere else as long as we put our own spin on it. After all, if you think nothing could be more British than fish and chips, for example, you’re missing out on the fact that it is actually a combination of two traditions from outside the UK entirely.

          • DefinitelyHype

            I definitely agree with you. Innovation is the key, and putting a Canadian spin on something originally developed elsewhere is fair game, as far as I’m concerned – as long as it’s adopted by Canadians.

            I chose Toronto as an example, because TO is the epicentre of this multicultural myth. As a proud Torontonian, I would love for the real value of multiculturalism be revealed when our “multicultural” city starts developing its own, unique cultural creations that belong ONLY to Toronto.

          • Anonymous

            Name 10 things that are 100% Canadian, besides Lacrosse.

    • Anonymous

      I’m much less proud of all you whiteys that stole land and destroyed a culture. But hey, who’s keeping track right?

      Canada had a large and vibrant culture BEFORE it was Canada. Remember that.

      • DefinitelyHype

        We didn’t steal the land. The First Nations gave it up. And we’re STILL paying for it. Maybe one day the First Nations will get with the program and make an effort to take advantage of living in one of the richest and most nations on the earth. But instead they live on “reserves” in the middle of nowhere and expect Canada to pay for the mobile homes. And they think WE destroyed their culture.

        • Anonymous

          “Education is the new buffalo” but the Sundance is still the Sundance.”

          “Reminds me of this classic diddy from 1920:

          “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.” – Duncan Campbell-Scott, Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

          All of these messages are rooted in prejudice and hatred.”

          ~~ Wag Kinew

          And finally:

          But seriously, you’re an ignorant f’n hick. Get with the times you backwater redneck.

          • DefinitelyHype

            Get with the times??? I don’t have to. The former “tribes” need to stop taking payments from Canadian taxpayers and “get with the times”. And the quote you shared is spot on. Every single Aboriginal person should be absorbed by the body politic. Their goal was perfect. That doesn’t mean they can’t keep speaking their language or practising their customs, but they should all be part of Canada, and stop acting like they’re not, all the while taking billions from Canadian taxpayers. I can’t wait for the day that there is no Indian question and no Indian Department (which the First Nations themselves are always condemning). That would mean they are finally standing on their own two feet – and WE don’t have to pay for them anymore. Approximately 11 billion dollars a year.

            Since I’m so retarded, could you please tell me what “AFN” stands for? I’m going to enjoy your response…

          • Anonymous

            Holy racist rant. Did you fall off your tractor on the way to the KKK meeting?

            Racist piece of sh*t.

            “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”

            Abraham J. Heschel

            No point in having a discussion with someone as far gone on the racist/ignorant bandwagon as you are…

            I feel sorry for your children.

          • DefinitelyHype

            You should maybe look up the meaning of “racist”. I never said anything against the First Nations, only that they should start joining Canadian society instead of insulting it and then taking money from it. Simple.

            And your insults are infantile.



          • Anonymous

            And you’re so ignorant you don’t realize that that is racist?
            Tell me about my culture? You probably know nothing. Yet you say so much.

          • DefinitelyHype

            lol Of course it’s not racist!!!! lol Just because I have an opinion about what the First Nations are obviously doing, doesn’t mean I’m “racist” because I don’t like it. lol That doesn’t mean I condemn the people. THAT is racist. But I’m sure it feels good to dismiss my opinion by accusing me of being “racist”. Nor did i even use an ethnic slur to describe YOU. I think the First Nations people are racist more than we are.



          • Anonymous

            So because you didn’t use a racial slur you’re not being racist? Woooow.

            So we can keep our culture as long as we assimilate into yours?

            If you didn’t steal our land, why do you give us money?

            Insulting you? So you see my insult as speaking for all aboriginals? Or you feel all aboriginals are insulting to you?

            You obviously know nothing about our culture otherwise you’d realize that keeping our culture but assimilating to yours is impossible. Your culture doesn’t allow this to happen, by design.

            You’re so ignorant, you don’t even realize how racist you are.

            I feel sorry for you. All that hate, for no reason, yet. What have we ever done to you? At least I can think of hundreds of reasons why our people would dislike you doboscobes. Can you,say the same?

            “I think the First Nations people are racist more than we are.”

            Uhhh. Stereotyping a cultural group of people is a form of racism, idiot.

          • DefinitelyHype

            I’m just curious how old you are? Judging from your responses, you can’t seem to follow what I’m saying. And again, your insults, and your responses, are ridiculous.

          • Anonymous

            Yawn. Drop the insults.

            I’ve been specific with my questions and a spade is a spade. Man up or shut up.

            You seem to have a lot of opinion, sans the facts. You’re very mis-lead about aboriginal issues in Canada (reality: the entire west, except Hawaii).

            Buuuuut. Your response only proves my point. Don’t worry, the whole “I’m racist and/or ignorant, but I don’t have the balls to admit it” happens to everyone. *wink* *wink*


          • DefinitelyHype

            Oh, I almost forgot. You referred to “white people” as WHITEYs, and then you called ME a redneck??? lol

    • Anonymous

      I’d like some examples of this “suppression” you speak of. Maybe wholesome Canadians rounded up and forced to eat Thai food, or United Churches bulldozed to make way for Peruvian pan flute bands – that sort of thing.

      • DefinitelyHype

        That’s not the kind of “suppresion” I’m talking about. By constantly harping about our “multicultural” society and how wonderful it is, we don’t take a second to see what CANADIAN culture is. Just by saying “multicultural”, is “suppressing”, or ignoring Canadian culture.

      • Anonymous

        There was that whole railway thing. Oh! And the residential schools thing, ya know… Multiculturalism. Yay!

        Enough is enough. Let’s concentrate on “what it is to be Canadian (be a patriot now!!!!)”, a conversation led by someone who’s so ignorant they don’t realize their own genetic immigration.

        Maybe I am being a bit tough though? We DO have basketball!!! Great all-Canadian sport – those damn Yankees!!!

  • Lovewell

    There is a factual error in the following sentence of the article: “Charles’s visit to the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University, now famous for images of the future King spinning vinyl with headphones on, comes to mind.” In fact, this much-reproduced image was taken not at Ryerson’s DMZ, but at UforChange — the Prince’s Trust-supported charity that was the destination of the busride mentioned in the article.

    • Anonymous

      This has now been fixed. Thank you for bringing it our attention.