Prince Philip in Toronto

New military Colours, a spiffy fedora and then back to Britain it is

Fred Thornhill/Reuters

He’s been the colonel-in-chief of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment since 1953, so when the RCRs wanted to replace its Colours from 1973, the duke of Edinburgh hopped on a plane for Toronto. On Saturday morning he oversaw the presentation of the new Colours–a ceremonial flag embroidered with the battalion’s battle honours that soldiers used to follow in combat–in front of Queen’s Park, the provincial legislature in Toronto. The Royal Canadian Regiment is the country’s senior infantry regiment. Formed in 1883, it’s been involved in every large conflict since then. The 3rd Battalion is based in Petawawa, Ont.

And given it’s a royal event, the temperamental spring weather was as well behaved as the crowds, with only a nip in the air to remind everyone they were outside, in April, in Canada. Until the sun started generating a bit of heat the only people who looked properly dressed were soldiers who took part in a “military capability” demonstration for the prince and Lieutenant-Governor David Onley. The snipers, who looked a bit like Star Wars Wookies in their camoflague outfits, appeared downright cozy. Yet though they were in full combat gear, surrounded by officers in formal red wool uniforms, the fashion contest was won by Philip, who wore a perfectly tailored blue suit, his medals and a spiffy straw fedora.

The duke, who turns 92 in June, has seen scores and scores of such ceremonies during his life, yet he’s such a professional that the idea of boredom didn’t appear to have crossed his mind. And certainly the RCRs put on a display worthy of their colonel-in-chief. Every complex move–including turning a battalion around in around 15 m of space–was smooth and polished, just like their white pith hats and gleaming black boots. Even the new colours were kept safe in a doll’s house of a guard hut, stationed on the side of the temporary parade ground.

It was over in 90 minutes. Philip went to the airport for a flight back to Britain, while the battalion got ready to take part in the big military parade honouring the 200th anniversary of the Battle of York. It wasn’t the length of the trip that mattered, but the long relationship  between the military and the Crown. Some in the crowd could be heard wondering what the ceremony was all about. Not so for the soldiers, who all swore an oath to the new Colours. It was their day, and they were going to celebrate it their way.