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When solo Prince Charles visited Canada 25 years ago

Crowds in Ottawa were said to be "staying home" the day he arrived in 1996, but elsewhere they came out in large numbers to see the Prince of Wales on his seven-day tour.

Tour highlighted prince's interests in heritage, the environment and helping young people

Prince Charles is shown as he arrives at Uplands airbase in Ottawa on April 23, 1996, waiting to be greeted by Gov.-Gen. Romeo Le Blanc and other officials. (Andrew Wallace/The Canadian Press)

Crowds in Ottawa were said to have "stayed home" the day the Prince of Wales arrived on his seven-day, three-province tour of Canada in April 1996.

It was the 11th official trip to Canada for Prince Charles and his first since a trip to Ontario with his wife, Diana and sons William and Harry in 1991. Large crowds had turned out on that trip, and Diana in particular had "won the hearts of the people of Sudbury," according to reporting at the time.

But now, the couple was separated. And after Charles's plane had landed at Ottawa's Uplands airport to start the tour, it seemed that the solo Prince of Wales was less of a draw than when he was joined by family.  

"The red carpet was out, but the crowds stayed home," said the CBC's Peter Mansbridge, hosting The National on Day 1 of the visit on April 23, 1996.

'Low-key trip'

Prince Charles lands in Ottawa for solo visit

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25 years ago
2:21
The Prince of Wales embarks on a trip to Canada that will take him to three provinces over seven days. 2:21

Reporter Julie Van Dusen noted it was a 'low-key trip" for the future King, who was seen and heard speaking about the uncomfortable aspects of camping with a group of "patient children" — Girl Guides and Brownies — who had turned up.

"The prince will have a chance to concentrate on some of the causes that interest him," said Van Dusen. Those interests, she said, included the environment, heritage and "helping young people."

To that end, Charles addressed a group of high school students from across Canada on a week-long study trip to Ottawa. Van Dusen said he encouraged them to "make the most of it," and offered reasons why they should.

"Perhaps to develop the friendships, associations and memories which you can draw on in later life, when you get older and older and more decrepit than I am now," Charles told the students.

Compared with scenes of the crowds that came out to see Diana in 1991, it was a subdued turnout. Van Dusen said the visit came as the popularity of the monarchy was at "rock bottom."

Ontario Liberal MP Alex Shepherd had chosen the occasion to say the monarchy should be "abolished." 

"I think the royals are probably a wonderful family," Shepherd told the Globe and Mail the day Charles arrived. "But it is time for us to grow up as a country."

A fort with a familiar name

Warm welcome for Charles in chilly Churchill, Man.

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25 years ago
2:11
Charles travels north and visits historic Fort Prince of Wales in Manitoba. 2:11

Elsewhere, Charles was received with more warmth. People came out in large numbers to see Charles in Churchill, Man., as reported on The National the next day. According to Mansbridge, "just about every resident" had shown up to greet the prince. 

Reporter Dan Bjarnason began with a remark on the weather, which was –12 C when the prince's plane touched down in the northern Manitoba community. But, he said, it could have been worse.

"Two days ago, a blizzard just about shut the town down," said Bjarnason. "Today, the prince accomplished that. Schools and businesses closed to get a look at royalty." 

In a speech, Charles made another self-deprecating remark about his age, noting that he had visited the area as a 22-year-old in 1970 and comparing himself to Churchill's mayor.  

"I have a feeling, probably, that he's weathered the years a little bit better than I have," said the prince.

After proclaiming Canada's newest national park, Wapusk, Charles headed to a national historic site named for one of his royal predecessors, Prince of Wales Fort on Hudson Bay.

"I think he's a great person," said Flora Beardy, a longtime resident of Churchill who had guided Charles around the 250-year-old fort. "It's just nice to see him here."

'Rock star' welcome

Royal roadshow reaches Southern Ontario

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25 years ago
2:19
In Hamilton, Ont., Prince Charles gets "a greeting fit for a rock star." 2:19

It was an enthusiastic crowd in Hamilton, Ont., too. On The National that night on April 26, host Alison Smith described the "royal roadshow" that took Prince Charles to the city. According to the Globe and Mail, it was the 150th anniversary of the city's founding. 

"The crowds that turned out to greet the Prince of Wales were big. Very big," Smith said.

As Charles walked into an event accompanied by local MP and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps — then under pressure to resign as an MP over the Liberals' handling of the GST — a roar erupted from the crowd.

"This prince got a greeting fit for a rock star," said reporter Jeffrey Koffman as the camera showed two enthusiastic women in the crowd outside an arena. 

"It's amazing. I can't believe it happened," said a young woman waving a tiny Canadian flag. "It's like the best experience of my entire life." 

Inside, Charles got an "enthusiastic" reception from what Koffman said was "the biggest crowd he has seen on this Canadian tour so far."

Charles then officially opened the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, climbing into "the plane he learned to fly in," said the reporter — a de Havilland Chipmunk.

Billiards and basketball

Prince Charles talks with a group of children while visiting the Dovercourt Boys and Girls Club in Toronto on April 26, 1996. (Moe Doiron/The Canadian Press)

Later that day, a relaxed-looking Charles visited a Toronto neighbourhood where the street was lined with well-wishers waving at his car. He was headed to a local Boys and Girls Club to "rub shoulders" with younger Canadians and promote a new charity. 

According to the Globe and Mail, that charity was Gifts in Kind, an "international business charity" that "arranges for corporations to donate their own products ... to worthy recipients."

Onlookers at the visit also "erupted in a roar of approval" when Charles successfully sunk a basketball on the second try, said the newspaper.

'Brief but noisy demonstration'

Presents and protest on Prince Charles's last day in New Brunswick

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25 years ago
2:17
The prince receives a gift when officially opening a wood mill and takes in some New Brunswick architecture on the last day of his 1996 visit to Canada. 2:17

Charles's 1996 visit ended in New Brunswick, on a day "tailored" for the interests of the future King, said Kas Roussy reported for The National on April 29, 1996.

"His interest in architecture brought him to the old government house in Fredericton."

Roussy said plans were underway to restore the landmark.

A small crowd that included some young flag-waving children was on hand, and the scene looked much the same at a private home, built "in the 1800s," said Roussy, that Charles was visiting to observe restoration efforts. 

Roussy said the prince's "passionate" interest in salmon fishing explained a gift he received when officially opening a wood mill in Miramichi: salmon-fishing flies.

"I am thrilled with these wonderful flies here which look very exciting, and I'm sure will excite some various Scottish salmon ... into a complete frenzy," said a thankful Charles, whose speech at the mill also recognized how "difficult" it had been for people seeking employment in the area. 

Prince Charles inspects the honour guard mounted by the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, as he arrives in Fredericton on April 27, 1996. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A small crowd assembled at the prince's last stop in in Caraquet, N.B., which Roussy described as "an historic Acadian village." According to The Canadian Press, Charles had "chatted in French with people in 18-century period costume" in Caraquet and even bartered for a wooden bucket.

But the crowd of people holding signs and shouting didn't seem to be hoping for Charles's attention. 

"A group angry with changes to unemployment insurance held a brief but noisy demonstration," said Roussy, noting that the protest was "evidence of hard economic times" in the region. 

But, Roussy said, the protest "fizzled" before Charles's helicopter landed, and soon he was enjoying "more traditional sounds" — fiddling — from other Acadians. After a final farewell, Charles was on his way home. 

"It has been hard to sell this trip to the Canadian public, who seem more enamoured with his estranged wife, Diana," summarized The Canadian Press in a short item that also mentioned the "warm crowds" that had greeted him in the Maritimes.

Prince Charles carries red carnations as he walks with Mayor Shirley McAlary in Saint John on April 28, 1996. Charles received the flowers from a fan in the crowd. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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