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“At Home in Canada”: Royalty at Canada’s Historic Places


"And as in all our visits down the years, whether watching a chuck wagon race at the Calgary Stampede or athletic prowess at the Montréal Olympics, whether listening to an Inuit song of greeting in Nunavut or the skirl of the pipes in Nova Scotia, I have always felt not only welcome but at home in Canada."

Queen Elizabeth II
Edmonton, Alberta May 2005

Canada's ties to the British monarchy run deep.  While some remain unsympathetic to authority and tradition, it is undeniable that the majority of Canadians have an obsession or, at least, a curiosity with the royals.  This sentiment was demonstrated during the 2011 Royal Tour of Canada featuring their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who were greeted by throngs of onlookers and admirers eager to catch a glimpse of or meet William and Catherine.  The tour did more than bolster the celebrity status of the royal couple; it helped reinforce our country's collective heritage.  James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage, expressed that the tour "provides Canadians with the opportunity to highlight their history, traditions, and shared values, while also strengthening our Canadian identity."  Canada's historic places provide the perfect setting for these bonds to nationalism to be forged and strengthened.

Canada's heritage is unquestionably linked with the history of monarchy for it is under the patronage of European rulers that Canada was explored, exploited, then later settled and fought over.  Canada's association with the British monarchy expanded following the 1763 Treaty of Paris which saw France cede much of North America to Great Britain.  Since then, our ties to the Crown have become a part of daily life: look no further than the coins in your wallet!  Other reminders of this imperial link include: Victoria Day, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Lake Louise and Alberta (named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, 1848-1939), Ontario's Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW Highway), and the list goes on...

The first member of the British royal family to set foot on Canadian soil was Prince William (later King William IV).  Son of King George III and Royal Navy officer, he arrived in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in 1786.  While in Placentia, Newfoundland, he commissioned a church, St Luke's, elements of which have been incorporated into the newer St. Luke's Anglican Church Municipal Heritage Building.  Since then, numerous royals have visited Canada during their military careers including Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, Prince Harry, who trained at CFB Suffield, Alberta in 2007, while others have toured the country during official and private visits.

Historically, many of Canada's designated historic places have provided the ideal setting for people to demonstrate their pride in being associated with the British Empire.  With a new parliament building in the works for Ottawa in 1859, Canadian Parliament invited Queen Victoria to Canada.  In her place, she sent her 18 year-old son Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) on a tour of the provinces in 1860 including a visit to Province House in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  This first official royal tour of British North America was considered a success and helped lead to the unification of the provinces by confirming a common bond between colonists: allegiance to the Queen (Bousfield & Toffoli, 56).  Not long after the Prince's visit, this grand Neoclassical structure, a source of pride for islanders, would become a symbol of the birthplace of our country after hosting the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 which eventually lead to Canadian Confederation in 1867. 

City Hall decorated for royal visit, Glenbow, Image No: NA-729-1 / L'hôtel de ville de Calgary, archive de Glenbow, NA-729-1Canada's built heritage also provided an excellent backdrop for confirming loyalty to the Crown.  During Prince Edward's 1860 visit, a July 24th article in the Ottawa newspaper Citizen described the spectacle of a royal tour: "Canada is preparing - like a bride putting on her robes, - to meet her future sovereign and invited guest."  Similar pageantry, including flags, banners and bunting, was on display at Calgary's City Hall during the 1912 tour of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916.  Completed just the year before the tour, the imposing City Hall was not only a symbol of ambition, progress and prosperity for Calgary but also became a place for reaffirming the loyalty of the nation to their king.The Prince of Wales at Bar U Ranch, 1919, LAC PA-040742 / Le prince de Galles au Ranch Bar-U, 1919, BAC PA-040742

Following the First World War, King George V sent his son the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) on a number of royal tours to strengthen the unity of Great Britain with her empire.  Over the next several years, the Prince visited Canada (1919), Australia and New Zealand (1920), India (1921), and Africa (1925).  While in Canada, he participated in a number of distinctly "Canadian" activities including being entertained by the equestrian abilities of the RCMP and bronco busting in Saskatchewan, being elected a tribal chief and given the title 'Morning Star' by a group of First Nations in Banff, Alberta, and fishing on Lake Nipigon in Ontario.  "I want Canada to look upon me as a Canadian," he stated, "if not actually by birth, yet certainly in mind and spirit." (Fabb, 105). The Prince of Wales and George Webster, Mayor of Calgary at the EP Ranch, 1923, Glenbow Archives Image No: NA-2626-5 / Le prince de Galles et George Webster, maire de Calgary, au E.P. Ranch, 1923, archives de Glenbow NA-2626-5

He was, however, taken the most by life in the West.  In southern Alberta's foothills, the Prince was welcomed to Bar U Ranch by George Lane, co-founder of the Calgary Stampede.  This place, a significant example of Canada's ranching industry which speaks to the well-established ranching tradition typical in western Canada, motivated the Prince to purchase his own ranch nearby.  "The free, vigorous, hopeful spirit of westerners not only inspires me," he declared, "but makes me feel happy and at home."  Renamed E.P. Ranch (E.P. signifying Edward Prince), the Prince enjoyed a private visit to his rural homestead on Canadian soil in 1923 where he participated in all the typical ranch chores including chopping wood, mucking the cowhouse, and filling the silo.  In between work, he and the other hired hands dined on the fruits of their labour: flapjacks, corn on the cob, carrots and beets (Bousfield & Toffoli, 95-8).  While not a Canadian by birth, it was at his ranch that the Prince was able to nevertheless feel like a young Canadian by experiencing traditions and practices typical of pioneering life out West.

A royal banquet at the Chateau Laurier, 1939, LAC PA-211004 / Un festin royal au Château Laurier, BAC PA-211004King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and W.L. Mackenzie King at Banff Springs Hotel, 1939, LAC PA-802278 / Le roi Georges VI, la reine Elizabeth et W.L. Mackenzie King à l'Hôtel Banff Springs, 1939, BAC PA-802278 One of the grandest and most ambitious royal tours of the 20th century was King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit in 1939, the first tour of Canada by reigning monarchs in our history.  They made stops across the country, visiting every province.  As with earlier royal tours, this one also helped unify the nation by providing a shared identity and history.  National landmarks on the tour included Ottawa's Château Laurier where all the pomp and ceremony of a royal banquet were on display, as well as Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.  These hotels, built by Canadian railway companies to encourage tourist to ride the train remain endearing emblems of Canada. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Parliament Buildings, 1939, LAC C-017440 / Le roi Georges VI et la reine Elizabeth sur la colline du Parlement, 1939, BAC C-017440

While in Ottawa, King George gave royal assent to bills in the Senate before posing for a photo under the iconic Peace Tower of the Parliament Building, a powerful symbol of Canadian governance and democracy.   During the laying of the corner stone for the Supreme Court Building, the Queen gave her first speech in Canada pronouncing: "Perhaps it is not inappropriate that this task should be performed by a woman; for woman's position in a civilized society has depended upon the growth of law" (Fleming, 53).  This building is now a dominant symbol of Canada's justice system and represents the rights and freedoms we all share.  Laying the corner stone of the Supreme Court Building, 1939, Canadian National Collection Image No.: CN003730 / L'édifice de la Cour suprême, 1939, collection de Canadian National No. CN003730

Since 1939, members of the royal family continue to visit Canada, but none have spent more time on official tours in this country than Queen Elizabeth II, Canada's reigning monarch since she ascended the throne in 1952.  The Globe and Mail affirmed that Queen Elizabeth II was "The living symbol of our heritage, both English and French" (Bousfield & Toffoli, 156) and she has shared with us many milestones in our nation's history such as the 1959 opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the centennial of Confederation in 1967, and the 1976 Summer Olympic Games held in Montréal.  During the latter tour, their Royal Highnesses visited Kings Landing Historical Settlement in Prince William, New Brunswick a living history museum of heritage buildings relocated during a 1960s hydroelectric project representing the evolution of rural life in the province from the 1790s to early 1920s.

Queen Elizabeth II at Kings Landing Historical Settlement, 1976, Moncton Museum PANB P229-21 / La reine Elizabeth II à Kings Landing, 1976, Musée de Moncton PANB P229-21 The presence of the monarchy at our historic places and during these defining moments of our past underscores the national significance of these places and events for our collective heritage.  In his speech at Charlottetown in 2011, given 151 years after his ancestor Prince Edward stood in the same place, Prince William expressed: "It is quite a moment for Catherine and me to be standing here in the Atlantic Canada, in front of Province House, where Canadian federation was forged.... Here, in the crucible of Canadian nationhood, we look forward to meeting many of you."  These words echo the importance of historic places as enduring symbols of our shared history.  Just like our connection to the Crown, our historic places provide us with a sense of continuity in Canada's ever-changing, global environment. 2011 Royal Tour, Province House, Brian Simpson http://www.gov.pe.ca/royaltour / Tournée royales 2011, Province House, Brian Simpson http://www.gov.pe.ca/royaltour

This is only a sample of historic places graced by royalty.  There are many more places across the country.  Perhaps you have been privileged with a royal sighting during a stop at one of our many heritage railway stations, or entering a historic hotel, or giving an address at a legislature, or visiting a national historic site.  If the past is any indication of the future, the royals will be back to celebrate Canada!


Bousfield, Arthur, and Garry Toffoli.  Home to Canada: Royal Tours, 1786-2010.  Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010.

Fabb, John.  Royal Tours of the British Empire, 1860-1927.  London: B.T. Batsford, 1989.

Fleming, R.B.  The Royal Tour of Canada: the 1939 Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  Toronto: Lynx Images Inc., 2002.


"Royal Tours," The Canadian Encyclopedia article, Robert M. Stamp

Monarchy in Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage