Amongst the unbelievers of the Crown in Canada, you could almost touch the chagrin, from sea to sea, as the extraordinarily successful 2011 royal tour unfolded last week. William and Kate, the newly minted duke and duchess of Cambridge, the future king and queen of Canada, didn’t just come and see and conquer: they vamped us. They did it with warmth and charm and youthful sexiness, then topped it all with a reminder, unambiguous and impossible to ignore, that the ties that bound us “from days of yore” still have the power to renew something very important in our history.
“Will and Kate” are now part of the Canadian story. A big part. Those monarchists who have tried over the years, like Queen Elizabeth II herself, not to be “fair-weather friends” were almost as stunned as the unbelievers as they watched this beautiful and caring young couple walk into our tale and hearts with such aplomb and grace that they seem to have started a whole new chapter.
It was more than just a gesture that, on Canada Day, Catherine wore the maple-leaf-shaped diamond pin the Queen wears so often when she comes to Canada and that had been loaned to the future queen for this trip, the first great adventure in the couple’s married lives after their storybook wedding. The brooch was also a kind of talisman of the past joining them to the future.
What a week! Canadians were suddenly hearing and seeing things they thought they would never see or hear again—or were, in fact, seeing and hearing them for the first time:
God Save the Queen, our official royal anthem, was sung with gusto.
Our veterans were seriously attended to and sincerely honoured instead of being treated as picturesque backdrops; new Canadians learned why there was an oath of “true allegiance” to the monarch when they became citizens; a premier of Quebec spoke out about the heritage and importance of our parliamentary democracy, inspired by the Westminster model; a prime minister of this country actually referred to our birth-name, the “Dominion of Canada,” on Canada Day; our marginal and homeless population received more than passing notice, and were symbolically lifted up before the whole country with kindness and respect; the Aboriginal population, especially in the North, was offered the opportunity to remind us all of the unique bonds forged through solemn treaties and generations of royal respect—and remind us, too, that we can still learn through our monarchy how to honour native traditions, values and rights.
Most of all, young Canadians were given a real sense of empowerment watching this young couple be the living, breathing embodiment of our Constitution.
Everything this royal couple did seemed etched with a special grace, good humour and effortless, relaxed dignity. The automatic deference royalty always received—until the Age of Deference came to an end in the latter half of the last century—was replaced on this trip by the conspicuous deference royalty paid to Canada. When Prince William, with his mother’s DNA writ large within him, dealt so touchingly with a man who had only weeks left to live, we got a glimpse of the kind of mark this young prince will leave.
The biggest gamble of all—taking the duke and duchess to Quebec—turned out to be a moment of special triumph. Not only can Prince William speak more than passable French (better than most Canadians), he may have even started something of an entente cordiale canadienne with the finesse of his generous tribute to Quebec’s feisty uniqueness. Anyone doubting that there are sea changes rumbling under the surface of Quebec must have been brought up sharply by the reports of “dozens of protesters” in a “marginal group of separatists” who’d geared up to hassle the tour. Just dozens? That is almost as big news as the collapse of the Bloc Québécois in the last election, or the ongoing meltdown of the Parti Québécois.
We will have to keep on seeing them, this glamorous, down-to-earth pair of royals. A lot of them. If they have dramatically revived the ancient story of the Crown in Canada, it will still require follow-up, in the form of regular visits. Their winter ski trips could move to Whistler, for example, and a summer cottage in Georgian Bay or the Eastern Townships might be a good idea. Whatever. It looks like they know exactly what they are doing. Lucky Canada.