Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday April 10, 2021
Prince Philip loved Canada, and knew this country in good times and bad
Prince Philip, in personal encounters, had a special ability to put you immediately at ease at the same time as he kept you on edge. It was his style: he loved to demystify the monarchy so you didn’t sound like a blithering idiot when you were addressed by a member of the family. But at the same time, he also brought to conversation a degree of forthright questioning that sometimes could turn you into … well, a blithering idiot.
He loved Canada and probably visited this country more than any other on the planet, both officially with the Queen he served so dutifully and lovingly all those years, and privately on many more occasions, especially in connection with the Duke of Edinburgh Awards or the World Wildlife Fund.
In a life spread throughout most of the 20th century and well into the 21st, he met thousands of people and graced hundreds of institutions. When he made one of several visits to Massey College in the University of Toronto during the Golden Jubilee Year (2002) to become the college’s first Honorary Senior Fellow he was asked — inevitably — to unveil a plaque honouring the visit. The college flag was draped somewhat ornately over the plaque and he went up to it with a certain degree of familiarity:
“You about to see the handiwork of a master unveiler of plaques,“ he said with a wry smile. Then he took one corner of the flag and with a few twists of the wrist made it twirl in the air which made everyone laugh.
He wrote later that he had “a soft spot” for Massey College. He had laid its cornerstone in a previous visit in 1962 and he was a particular friend of the college’s founder, Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born governor general. It was part of a much larger soft spot for Canada as a whole.
And he knew the country in good times and bad. Famously, during the troubled visit of 1964 during the height of the Quiet Revolution Quebeckers backs were turned on him and the Queen as their official car headed for the provincial legislature. Later at a press reception, he pointed out that if Canada was tired of being a monarchy perhaps we could try to end it with a bit of civility. “We don’t come here for our health,” he pointed out. “We can think of other ways of spending our time.”
Although a deeply intelligent and inherently kind man with an extraordinary sense of duty, it was his testiness that was a big part of his appeal, and also what got him into trouble. Depending on your views of the monarchy, his off-the-cuff quips were either a sign of the blatant ridiculousness of the Crown or proof of its enduring power. It was usually a matter of perspective.
He certainly understood the often murky deal between the Crown and the media that both sides played. On the one hand, there was deep resentment within the Royal Family and those officials who served them at the brutal way the media could often push into their lives during troubled periods. At the same time, the media has for some time now been the leading handmaiden in securing the Crown’s hold over people’s imagination, to the equal irritation for their own reasons of republicans and royalists alike.
He was a man marked for life by his earliest experience of being poor but royal, impoverished but often in the presence of vast wealth, alone in the world but determined to survive and make his mark. And it was all done with a sense of duty that has few parallels in our own time. (National Post)