Canada

Doing it up royally

MICHAEL ENRIGHT August 1 1976
Canada

Doing it up royally

MICHAEL ENRIGHT August 1 1976

Doing it up royally

They had been standing there in the sun for a couple of hours, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, Moncton chapter. They had trooped over to Chatham in northern New Brunswick because the Queen was to sign the town guest book and walk in the park among what the protocol people call “Patriotic Groups.” Now they waited, loyalist and royalist, a formidable wall of rock-bottomed allegiance, looking like the massive matrons in a Ronald Searle cartoon. The Queen eased down the line in the hot sun, looking a bit tired. When she reached the IODE emplacement, she smiled tightly: “And how are the Daughters today?”

There it was. A relaxing sense of recognition on both sides. The Daughters smiled as one. The connective linkages were still in place. After the frenzied enthusiasm of the republicans to the south, it was warming for the Queen and Philip to find familiar footing in Canada. For Americans, a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II in a motorcade was something new and undefined. For Canadians, this 13-day royal visit was a low-key renewal of affection. And lowkey it was. While a royal tour has its own built-in momentum, it also carries a builtin tedium. In its various portions, doled out one at ,a time, there are moments of excitement. Taken as a whole, it can be an enervatingly boring exercise in the pretensions of protocol. But queenship has a compelling sense of occasion for Canadians. They may have seen it all before but they turned out to line up again.

What they saw was a 50-year old woman who stands five-four but with a tiara looks a head taller. She has fixing blue eyes, a high forehead and a wide mouth. In her twenty-fifth year as Queen, she is sixtythird in a line of sovereigns going back

1,000 years. She knows about queenship in all its details, that to be regal is to be distant and formal. Yet she is said to be direct in conversation, quick to laugh and well-informed politically. She drinks sparingly, usually gin and tonic, and she never smokes. At home she gets up shortly before 8 a.m., listens to the radio and does the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle. She has breakfast around nine with Philip and spends the rest of the morning going over state matters—“reading the boxes” as it’s called. In the evening, if she is not on call for public functions, she stays home to read or watch television. She prefers light comedies, particularly something called Dad’s Army. When she is on tour, she becomes a prisoner of her schedule, conscripted by federal and provincial governments into an endless round of dinners, official receptions, inspecting guards of honor and signing guest books. (The books have standby pages in case a passing bird should disfigure the page set for her royal signature.)

Officially she came to Canada to open the Olympic Games in Montreal. But the Queen also came to cheer her daughter, Anne, who was the first member of a British royal family to compete in the Olympics. The visit became very much a family holiday when the three princes—Edward, Andrew and Charles—joined their parents at Bromont, Quebec, to watch the equestrian events. It was the first time the entire family had been together outside Britain.

In the Maritimes, her schedule was punishing. Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan tried to squeeze the visit of its last ounce of political nectar, displaying athletic adroitness in attempting to crane into every picture of the royal couple. A devout Liberal, Regan started off by not inviting Tory MPS

to official functions. Then he refused to release the names of guests at a provincial reception. And he topped it off by getting the Queen to dedicate a hospital in Windsor that had been open for some time. Windsor is Regan’s hometown. At a provincial dinner, the Queen gave a formal speech. The original version, like all of the Queen’s speeches in Canada, was written by Ottawa in collaboration with the provincial government. When her advisers aboard her yacht Britannia got a look at it they were appalled at its Dick-and-Jane mediocrity. They quickly rewrote the text to

make it presentable and the Queen delivered the revised version well.

If the Premier had every right to politicize the tour, the people had every right to just enjoy it. There was a breezy informality to her public events. At a Halifax sodtuming, somebody shouted “Hi, Queenie” and she responded with a smile. In New Brunswick, with a 40% French-speaking population, the visit’s tempo had a Gallic counterpoint to it. Premier Richard Hatfield used more French in his short welcoming speech than Premier Regan had used in the entire Nova Scotia tour. In the more rural setting of New Brunswick, it was somewhat startling to see what the Royals subjected themselves to. At King’s Landing, a pioneer village, they rode in a stuffy opera coach behind a team of flatu-

lent Belgian horses called, cutely, Queen and Prince. In Miramichi, they toured a dusty wood laminating plant. The Queen watched closely as a Prentice Clipper clipped and a Globe Gluer glued, appearing fabulously interested.

Throughout the Maritimes, the people running the tour worried openly about Quebec. They would be on Olympic turf in the care of COJO and COJO had not shone in the efficiency stakes. Secondly, they knew that Quebec political leadership was not happy with the Queen’s prominent role at the Olympics because it underscored a dramatic federal presence. And finally there was the vision of the Queen being in Quebec at all. She had not been to Montreal since 1967 and then had toured only the Expo islands. She had not been seen

widely or publicly since her 1964 visit which turned ugly when Quebec City police rioted against a group of students shouting separatist slogans. Additionally, a Gallup poll taken prior to her visit claimed that 65% of French Canadians were opposed to her role in opening the Montreal games. As the press plane taxied to the ramp at CFB St. Hubert near Montreal, somebody said: “This armed camp looks like an armed camp.” Security, in fact, was the tightest since the War Measures crisis of 1970. At Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel every parcel and person entering was scanned electronically for weapons. One guest from Iroquois Falls, Ontario, muttered: “I’ve been X-rayed so much in this place, I’m losing my sex drive.”

They need not have worried. Her visit was of no interest to serious indépendantistes', 1976 is not 1964. She was viewed in the main as an item of curiosity, an adjunct to the Olympics or a minor sport like archery. The crowds that greeted her in Montreal were small, polite and friendly. During one reception at Place des Arts, a group of five separatists stood across the road with a sign reading QUEBEC FRANÇAIS. A young Mountie watching them was asked if the RCMP could handle the demonstration.“! think so,”saidthe cop, “especially since two of them are ours.” Everywhere on the tour the Mounties were sure of their jobs and intelligent about crowd movement; they did not rattle. During the Queen’s walkabout at Upper Canada Village in Ontario, someone sat on a split rail fence which broke with a crash. A member of the royal household quipped: “It’s a good thing the Secret Service aren’t about; they’d have opened fire by now.” Royal visit 1976 didn’t create much excitement but at least it was the only aspect of the Olympic Games on which nobody made a profit. MICHAEL ENRIGHT

MICHAEL ENRIGHT