Diamond Jubilee a chance for youth to honour Canada's Queen

In the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year, a group of young monarchists is out to prove that allegiance to the Crown isn't all "tea and corgis."

A new generation of monarchists value 'Canada's history'

Members of the Greater Toronto Area branch of the Monarchist League of Canada say they are interested in the Crown's connection to Canadian history and culture. (Alexandra Kazia/CBC)

In the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year, a group of young monarchists is out to prove that allegiance to the Crown isn’t all "tea and corgis."

Youth members of the Monarchist League of Canada say they are more interested in the value of constitutional monarchy and how it fits with Canada's national identity (and perhaps also how to host a few good pub nights).

Young people are the fastest growing demographic in the league and make up roughly 30 per cent of the league's more than 15,000 members across the country.

Brendon Bedford, 26, has been a member since 2008. He says outsiders assume the group is made up of anglophiles, or octogenarians obsessed with the "glory of the British Empire" and "days of yore."

Either that or people assume monarchists are royal-obsessed fashionistas waiting to dish on the Duchess of Cambridge's latest outfit.

But Bedford insists they are none of the above. "We are interested in Canadian culture, Canada’s history and the continuing role of the Crown as a force of stability and continuity within Canada's Constitution and culture," he said.

Royal wedding helped boost interest

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In recent months, Monarchist League supporters say they have seen a surge in interest and a growing understanding of the role of the Crown in Canada. Of course, it is little surprise that the interest in all things royal peaks around the time of a royal visit or occasion.

"I think that the royal wedding helped bring a lot more of the youth into understanding monarchy," said Jonathan Brickwood, 31, who has been a member of the league for 11 years.

Indeed, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which attracted a Canadian audience of approximately 12 million viewers, did more than create a new generation of royal followers on this side of the pond.

The group says that the televised event helped more Canadians become aware of the Queen's constitutional role and what that means to Canada's identity.

"You can be 25 and have just as much impact and have just as much belief and faith and support of the monarchy as anyone’s grandmother," says Brickwood, adding that one need not remember the day the Queen took the throne to care about it.

Brickwood is the secretary of the Monarchist League's Greater Toronto Area branch, which consists of roughly 1,500 members. Many members are youth and young professionals of all political stripes.

A shared but separate system

Canada is one of 54 independent states, many of them former British colonies, that have come together to form the Commonwealth of Nations. In Canada's case, it is also one of 16 "realms" within the Commonwealth in which the Queen is the monarch and head of state.

"We don’t think of her as Queen of Great Britain," Brickwood said. "She is the Queen of Canada and people tend to forget that," Brickwood said.   

Although the Queen hails from Britain, the monarchy also helps foster an identify for Canada that is unique, according to the group. Constitutional monarchy is one of the key institutions that separates Canada from the U.S., for example.

Eugene Berezovsky, 25, works for Elections Ontario and has been a member of the league for 10 years.

He doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with the fact that Canada's Queen and the country's system of governance have roots in another country. 

Royal encounters

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"Well, we all come from another place and that's part of it," Berezovsky said. "We’re a large country, federation and unit, and a kind of regionalism is part of our identity. That’s just a given."

"One of the advantages of the monarchy is unification. It's an institution that draws people together, keeps the country glued together," he added.

Although many members of the league have ties to the U.K., or a long familial history within Canada, there are many exceptions.

Berezovsky's family moved from Kiev, Ukraine, to Israel when he was three years old and then moved to Canada when he was six.

"My family always taught me to show a deep appreciation for the benefits of living here in Canada," he said.

"I took a strong interest in history and politics and understanding what makes Canada tick. I just read a lot and I thought monarchy was a great thing."

Canada chose independence and tradition

According to the lieutenant-governor of Ontario, having a shared monarch doesn't diminish a country's status as a sovereign nation.

"It’s not a matter of either-or, as the Americans seemed to have viewed it," Lt.-Gov. David C. Onley said recently during the launch of the "60 in 60" exhibit.

"The Americans made that choice in terms of the revolution; it was either be a part of Britain or be a republic. They chose, through war, to be a republic."

Onley added that Canada, subsequent to the American Revolution and then again after 1812, chose to be a part of a constitutional monarchy.

"But at no time did we ever see ourselves as being less than Americans in terms of nation status and a concept of self," Onley said. "We are fully independent and we are also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations."

Canada’s long history with the monarchy

The Queen’s role in a constitutional system is to remain apolitical, ensuring stability and continuity of state. The role is sometimes referred to as a "constitutional fire extinguisher" — with the prerogative to weigh in during moments of great democratic crisis, such as when a prime minister might refuse to step aside following a defeat in Parliament, but hopefully never needed.

Since 1534, when the king of France claimed possession of what is now Canada, the country has remained tied to a monarch in some fashion or another.

In the case of Canada — as is stated in the Constitution Act of 1982, signed by the Queen — the Crown's role can only be changed through a resolution by the House of Commons, Senate, and all 10 provinces. 

"When someone talks about the influence or role of monarchy you just have to go right to the heart of what it is to be a Canadian now and what it has been to be a Canadian, not just through decades but literally through centuries," Onley said.

That history appeals to the league's young members, who want to pass tradition to future generations.

"It’s part of our history, but it's important for any group to have young blood with new ideas moving forward," Bedford said.

Inspiring a new generation

Berezovsky argues that the youth contingent is drawn to the Crown for reasons of consistency and historical nostalgia.

The last time the Commonwealth realms saw a monarch celebrate a Diamond Jubilee was in 1897 with Queen Victoria.

For this group, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate and reach out to others about the concept of the Crown within Canada.

"The more people look at our history they find that the Crown is a recurring theme in our history, that it is a unifying and strengthening force for our country," said Berezovsky.