Canadian support for royals may have slumped, but the scenes in London tell a different story

Throngs of Canadians flood streets, wave flags to witness Charles's coronation

Sunday - 07/05/2023 06:30 Author: Editors Desk Source: CBC News:
RCMP officers ride in front of King Charles and Queen Camilla’s carriage during the royal procession following the coronation ceremony in London on Saturday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
RCMP officers ride in front of King Charles and Queen Camilla’s carriage during the royal procession following the coronation ceremony in London on Saturday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Support for the monarchy is at its lowest point in a generation as Canadians continue to digest the passing last September of the long-reigning Queen Elizabeth and weigh the institution's future with King Charles on the throne.

But the sizable Canadian contingent at the King's coronation in London on Saturday suggests there are still many faithful followers of the thousand year-old institution.

Some Canadian revellers camped out for days to catch a glimpse of the country's new head of state and Queen Camilla.

Daniel Guenther of Winnipeg was part of a "coronation tour" with 30 other Canadian monarchists. The group travelled throughout the U.K. over the past week, with the coronation the most important stop.

"I just felt it was a wonderful opportunity to come over here and represent Canada on the ground. It was so heart-warming to see so many Canadians — it was a large contingent, walking around, exchanging pins, sharing a moment," he said.

"Anecdotally, I would say this was the largest contingent outside the U.K. There were just a ton of Canadian flags out there," Guenther said.

A Canadian in London for the coronation is pictured holding the official coronation programme with a Canadian flag.
Daniel Guenther of Winnipeg is shown in London holding the official program for King Charles and Queen Camilla's coronation service. He travelled with 30 other Canadian monarchists. (Submitted by Daniel Guenther)

Asked why he made the trek and paid handsomely for the travel, Guenther said he wanted to support the King — a man who most Canadians don't know well, he said.

Guenther said Charles's comparatively poor poll numbers can turn around in time.

"There's been some discussion about the future of the monarchy, but just seeing the number of Canadians here who were engaged — and looking at supportive messages from people back home — I think it's been understated just how excited people are for this," he said.

"It's going to take time for Canadians to get to know King Charles, and when they do, I think they'll be pleasantly surprised."

Britain's new monarch King Charles has deep ties to Canada, forging connections with some Canadians through his charitable work and outreach during his many visits to the country.

'Once-in-a-generation thing to do'

The Canadian presence was particularly strong in the viewing areas in Hyde Park — an overflow area to accommodate the crushing crowds who couldn't find a spot along the coronation procession route.

Those Canadians who were lucky enough to witness the gilded carriage as it rolled through central London saw dozens of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and the RCMP Musical Ride usher King Charles and Queen Camilla from their investiture at Westminster Abbey.

The RCMP recently gave the King a mare, Noble. He'll ride the horse during Trooping the Colour, an annual celebration to mark the monarch's birthday — continuing a long-standing tradition of Canadian equine gifts to the sovereign.

King Charles is pictured with a horse gifted to him by the RCMP.
King Charles, centre, is flanked by Ralph Goodale, left, Canada's High Commissioner to the U.K., and RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme after Charles was officially presented with Noble, a horse given to him by the Mounties, at Windsor Castle on April 28. (Andrew Matthew/Pool/The Associated Press)

Jessica and Andrew Matthews of Toronto were among those who braved the wet London weather on Saturday to witness history.

"Our little guy is six months old. We're going to be able to tell him and future generations that we were here — that's just amazing," Jessica said.

"And when I saw the Mounties, I just burst out into cheers and clapped."

Andrew said it's a "once-in-a-generation thing to do," and they wouldn't think about missing the event. The couple said they didn't expect to see so many fellow Canadians in the crowd.

Canadian Bill Powell is picture in front of a flag-adorned tent in London.
Canadian Bill Powell camps out along The Mall in London during coronation festivities on Saturday. Some Canadian revellers camped out for days. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Canada's military contingent was notably smaller than what was on display at the Queen's coronation 70 years ago, when 700 Canadian service members were present.

But Canada's military display this time was still one of the largest among the Commonwealth realms in Charles's purposely scaled-down version of the event.

Canadian flag prominent in London

The prime spot to view Charles and Camilla, as they stood on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the ceremony, was appropriately named Canada Gate.

The flags along The Mall — the street that leads to that storied residence — also reveal Canada's prime position in the Commonwealth. The maple leaf flies second only to the Union Jack — a testament to the country's long-standing ties to the Crown.

The Canadian flag also held a prominent position in Westminster Abbey — directly across from Charles in the church nave as he took his oath to serve.

People line up and camp out along the mall waiting for the coronation of King Charles in London.
A Canadian flag is displayed along The Mall in London, as people wait to catch a glimpse of King Charles and Queen Camilla. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Canada is a senior member of the Commonwealth — the group of mostly former British colonies that was first led by a Canadian, Arnold Smith — and it's also a country where the republican movement is comparatively quiet.

Unlike in Australia, for example — where there's already been a failed referendum on the royals, and the prime minister is an avowed anti-monarchist — Canada has so far avoided a serious conversation about a future without the monarchy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, an admirer of the late Queen who is ideologically in sync with the climate-focused King, has repeatedly said he's unwilling to engage in protracted constitutional talks to end Canada's ties with the royals.

Monarchists are pictured in London.
Canadian monarchists on a coronation tour paid tribute to George VI and the late Queen Mother, sang the national anthem and unfurled a giant Canadian flag in London. (Submitted by Monarchist League of Canada)

It's unlikely all provinces, along with the House of Commons and Senate, will agree to remove the sovereign any time soon — if ever.

That constitutional reality has prompted the federal Liberal government to put King Charles in a new light.

The Canadian delegation at Saturday's celebration reflected the image the government wants to project when people think of the monarch. There were Indigenous leaders, a large youth delegation, climate activists, scientists and an astronaut — Jeremy Hansen, who's headed to the moon with the Artemis II mission.

WATCH | King Charles won't be known as 'defender of the faith.' Does it matter? 

King Charles will have a new title in Canada now that the government has dropped "defender of the faith" — part of a push to redefine the head of state's role.

Under Trudeau, Canada has also dropped the "defender of the faith" position from Charles's Canadian title — a signal that, unlike in the U.K., the head of state is strictly secular in Canada's religiously diverse country.

"The issues that matter most to Charles, they resonate with Canadians," Winnipeg's Daniel Guenther said. "Environmental sustainability, historical preservation, Indigenous reconciliation — those are issues that are at the forefront at home. There's a total overlap."

He said this year's event was "quite a different coronation" than the one staged for Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

The inclusion of different faith leaders in the church service, the presence of Indigenous groups and a selection of racially and ethnically diverse performers shows that the "world has really changed and the monarchy is willing to change with that," Guenther said.


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