An Audience with the Queen
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An Audience with the Queen

Photo by Squeakyrat, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

If there was anyone in Toronto for whom Victoria Day was something more than a day off from work, it seemed certain that they’d show up at the base of the bronze statue of Queen Victoria in Queen’s Park South.

Adulation of the monarch has waned, understandably, in the century since her death. But if one were, for whatever reason, to feel a deep connection to the Queen, there’s no other site in Toronto that could possibly compare. Victoria has no gravesite in Canada—in fact the plaque on the back of the statue says clearly that she never even visited this country.
And yet Canada celebrates her birthday. Even the British don’t do that.
At 2:00 p.m. Monday, the apocryphally difficult-to-amuse Queen was as austere as could possibly be expected. Seated on her bronze throne, which in turn rests upon a high stone plinth, she meets the lawn of the legislature with what probably, when she was erected on the site in 1903, qualified as a thousand-yard stare. Now there are some trees in front of her, so it’s more of a 20-yard stare.
The first visitors were two girls speaking a language that sounded like Russian. They bypassed the Queen and took one another’s pictures in front of a patch of orange flowers directly to her left.
A tour bus pulled up in front of the legislature building and a few dozen people disembarked. Some of them wandered over to the statue and desultorily snapped photos. Was this what they’d had in mind when they signed up for the package tour? It’s hard to say, because none of them seemed willing or able to converse in English.
Later, two middle-aged people approached the statue, a man in a jean jacket and a woman in a baseball cap. They seemed more enthralled than any of the tourists, but their conversation was in sign language. Apparently the Queen appeals to a pretty polyglot crowd.
It’s hard to say whether any of these visitations were connected to Victoria Day. The people on the tour bus might not even have known the holiday was going on. Even among Canadians, the Queen’s claim to the day is tenuous. “May Two-Four” is a more descriptive name, and it comes without any of the fusty colonial baggage.
Eventually an elderly Jamaican woman with long braids approached the statue and introduced herself as Freda. She was with another old woman, whom she introduced as her friend, from Sri Lanka.
“She’s my favourite British queen,” said Freda, of Victoria. “She abolished slavery in the British Commonwealth, and I always remember and thank her for that.” (This is kind of true, but gives way too much credit to Victoria. Full emancipation happened shortly after the start of her reign, but it was the end result of a century-long movement.)
Freda and her friend circled the statue reverently for a few minutes, then left.
At 3:44 p.m. a tour bus parked directly in front of the statue, reducing Victoria’s 20-yard stare to nil, and a few dozen Korean tourists stepped onto the grass before the plinth. The sound of camera shutters filled the air. It was the Queen’s biggest audience of the afternoon.