Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall have returned to the United Kingdom after a successful four day tour of CFB Gagetown, Saint John, Toronto and Regina. Prior to the couple’s arrival in Canada, royal commentators predicted that Jubilee tour would have a traditional structure that would not allow for the spontaneous moments that characterized the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 visit. Instead, the royal couple surprised and delighted audiences with actions and anecdotes that demonstrated their sense of humour and ability to interact informally with Canadians.
In Canada, the favourite spontaneous moment from the royal tour was Prince Charles picking up a hockey stick and joining a game of ball hockey with children in Saint John. In contrast to Prince William’s impromptu hockey game in Yellowknife last year, the Prince of Wales scored a goal to the delight of onlookers. In the United Kingdom, the press has focused on the DJ lesson the Prince received at the Yonge Street Mission in Toronto, where he elicited applause for his song mixing.
The Prince also received a warm reception in Regina when he was named honourary commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In accepting the honour, the Prince reminisced, “It was a wonderful surprise, “Particularly as I recall, I think from a photograph album belonging to the Queen, a long time ago when I was very small, she must have been given a complete uniform for a child on a visit to Canada. Anyway, there in the photograph album of me wearing the uniform. Little did I think …” Prince Charles’s speech incidentally demonstrates that while some of the gifts received by members of the royal family traveling abroad are displayed publicly as part of the royal collection, others are personally enjoyed by their recipients.
Canada has long been a place where members of the royal family are expected to behave comparatively informally and embrace regional customs. When Queen Victoria’s son-in-law Lord Lorne was appointed Governor General in 1878, Canadian newspapers expressed concern that he and his wife, Princess Louise would expect deference and formality that was foreign to the egalitarian society in Canada. The Princess quickly endeared herself to Canadians by declaring that if visitors came to be received at Rideau Hall, she “wouldn’t care if they came in blanket coats!”
The Lornes embraced Canadian culture and became well known for holding evening snow parties where guests skated, curled and tobogganed by torchlight. These evenings sadly came to an end when Princess Louise was injured in an 1880 sleigh accident and returned to England for an extended period of convalescence. When Queen Victoria’s third son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught became Governor General in 1910, he and his family also took up winter sports. The Duke’s daughter, Princess Patricia, was an enthusiastic skater who often led skating parties on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal.
Royal visitors who spent briefer periods in Canada have also had the opportunity to enjoy the Canadian winter. When Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh toured Canada on behalf of King George VI in 1951, they spent a few days winter holiday in a St. Agathe chalet in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains at the end of the tour. The royal couple went sleighing and built a snowman who was dubbed “Mr. Churchill.” Like his grandson, Prince William in 2011, the Duke of Edinburgh wore a white cowboy hat to the Calgary Stampede in 1951, matching the crowd of Canadian onlookers.
The informal moments on the Diamond Jubilee tour of Canada by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are part of a long tradition of informality and spontaneity during Canadian royal visits. The ball hockey games played by Prince Charles and Prince William on their recent Canadian tours follow a long tradition of royalty enjoying themselves during their time in Canada.