The Diamond Jubilee Book Reviews 3: The Secret of the Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty by John Fraser

The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty is a book that every Canadian should read. Despite the intense nationwide interest in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 Canadian tour, the important role of the crown in Canada is not widely understood. This royal heritage is so thoroughly embedded in Canadian history, geography, politics and culture that it is rarely noticed or commented upon. John Fraser’s insightful and well written study illuminates the role of the crown in all aspects of Canadian life and provides convincing arguments in support of continued ties with the constitutional monarchy. Monarchists, republicans, and readers who have never really considered the significance of the Maple Crown will all learn something new about the relationship between Canada’s history and potential future in The Secret Of The Crown.

While publications that coincide with Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee often treat this occasion as a symbolic opportunity to look back at the Queen’s life of public service, Fraser treats this milestone, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Canadian tour as significant historical events. After decades marked by the increasing popular perception that the institution was no longer relevant to Canadian society, the Canadian tour and the Diamond Jubilee have revived widespread interest in Canada’s constitutional monarchy. The Secret Of The Crownis a book about the monarchy in modern Canadian society rather than a historical work alone. Other superb works about Canada and the Crown such as Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty or Royal Spectacle: The 1860 Visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and the United States look at the monarchy’s history while Fraser focuses on its future.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to make Canada the setting of their first overseas tour both emphasized the enduring links between the crown and Canadian society, and symbolized the future of the monarchy. The Jubilee celebrations in Canada are highlighting the significance of the Queen’s presence at key moments in the nation’s history, and how she continues to be a significant Canadian public figure. Her Majesty opened the St. Lawrence Seaway, attended Expo ’67 and repatriated the constitution. While critics of the monarchy often describe Elizabeth II a “foreign” ruler, the Queen calls Canada home.

Fraser writes in an engaging style that includes entertaining and insightful descriptions of his various encounters with royalty and Canadian Governors General. Prince Philip’s remarks on meeting the journalism fellows at Massey College, University of Toronto are both hilarious and reveal the longstanding tensions between the modern royal family and the press. Fraser’s analysis of the successive Canadian born Governors General and provincial Lieutenant Governors reveals how dynamic and progressive this office became in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. I would have been interested to read his insights concerning the British born Governors General as well because many of these figures were directly connected to the royal family and symbolized Canadian sovereignty.

As a historian, I was most interested in his critique of the monarchy’s place in Canadian history books. He observes that Donald Creighton’s seminal work, Canada’s First Century does not contain a single reference to Queen Victoria in its index despite her significance to nineteenth century Canadians. This approach to Canada’s history appears to be changing as Richard Gwyn’s biography of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A: The Man Who Made Us emphasizes that the idea that Queen Victoria wanted Confederation helped unite the provinces in 1867.

During the interviews I gave in the past year concerning the history of royal weddings, tours and the Canadian crown, one particular question was asked by the majority of journalists. Will Canada continue to be a monarchy after the death of Elizabeth II? Fraser’s sympathetic portrayal of Prince Charles makes a strong case for his suitability as a future King of Canada, emphasizing his interest in Canadian society, long history of charitable activity and the continued success of the constitutional monarchy. The Secret Of The Crownis a compelling defense of the Maple crown that deserves to be a part of every Canadian’s library.

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