Don't expect Charles and Camilla in a dragon boat

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will soon begin a visit to Canada that will be markedly different from the 2011 tour by Prince William and Kate, reflecting the strategic roles the visits have in the country's relationship with the monarchy.
Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrive at a reception hosted by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's on Nov. 3, 2009, during an 11-day visit to Canada. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Don't expect dragon boat racing and street hockey this time around.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge didn't hesitate to show their sporting side during last year's royal visit to Canada

But this year's tour by Prince Charles and Camilla to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee will likely be a more sedate affair.

It will also be shorter (four days rather than 10 for the young royals) and hit spots that Will and Kate didn't visit on their first official overseas trip as a married couple.

While the differences between the two visits speak to the contrasts, in age as much as anything, between the two couples, they also reflect the strategic role the tours are intended to play in Canada's relationship with the monarchy.

"The William and Kate tour was really a tour that was designed to introduce the young couple to young Canadians particularly," says Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada.

The Duchess of Cambridge steers a dragon boat as her husband Prince William paddles by in another boat on July 4, 2011, at Dalvay by the Sea, P.E.I. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"The events were much more youthful, if you want to use that term. Let's face it: Prince Charles and Camilla aren't going to be racing canoes and paddling and having competitions among one another."

Nor would they be expected to, particularly given that the main purpose of the visit that begins Sunday in New Brunswick is marking Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne.

Traditional themes

"This is going to be the more traditional royal tour," says Finch. "It's going to be touching some of those traditional themes, the First Nations, the military, and of course it's going to have that Diamond Jubilee-centric theme to it as well.

"That's the reason they're coming over here."

Last year's visit by William and Kate — coming less than three months after their wedding — was widely regarded as a public relations coup for the House of Windsor as it tries to move the monarchy forward.

It was William's third time in Canada, and Kate's first. By contrast, Charles has been here 15 times, the last occasion in 2009 when he and Camilla visited (and weren't always overwhelmed by clamouring crowds).

"There was very intense interest in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge because they had never undertaken a tour as a royal couple," observes Carolyn Harris, a royal expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. She writes the blog, The Royal Historian.

Charles salutes the colours as Camilla looks on during a ceremony at the Black Watch Regiment on Nov. 10, 2009, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"In terms of Prince Charles, he's very well known to Canadians and has visited numerous times, so there isn't the same sense of novelty that there is when it's a new royal couple visiting."

Looking at the itineraries of the two visits, which don't overlap geographically, Harris sees the attempt to spread these visits around the country.

"This is really part of the broader policy of ensuring the various Canadian regions receive more or less the same number of visits," she says.

"The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went to Prince Edward Island last year. That province hadn't had a royal visit in 11 years."

The itineraries also give a hint at favourite pursuits and how the royals like to spend their time.

"For Charles and Camilla, the events on the tour reflect their interests, that Charles enjoys classical music and is patron of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, so they'll be attending a performance in Regina, whereas Prince William is more interested in sports.

"You see elements of the strengths and interests of individual members of the Royal Family coming out in their royal tours."

How popular?

But will people come out to see these visiting royals?

For William and Kate, the answer was an unqualified Yes. For Charles and Camilla, a couple who fall somewhat lower on the celebrity scale, expectations are a little less.

"William and Kate are the draw and the Royal Family knows that," says Alanna Glicksman, a Toronto public relations consultant who writes about the royals on her blog, The A List. 

"They're a bigger draw than Prince Charles and Camilla are. So I think choosing those locations could have been a little bit strategic as well."

Finch, however, rebuffs any suggestion that the smaller crowds that welcomed Charles and Camilla in 2009 might play into the choice of venues this time around.

"To be honest with you, I think that the small crowds of '09 have been completely overstated," says Finch. 

"You cannot compare an event on Parliament Hill on Canada Day to an event in Cupids, Newfoundland. I remember one commentator saying: "Wow, there's only 60 people at this particular royal tour.

Charles and Camilla tour an archeological dig on Nov. 3, 2009, in Cupids, N.L. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"Well, the population of the town is only 100. So you've got to be fair and I think when you look at the itinerary for 2012, and you see some of the events that are lined up, I think that the crowds will not be an issue."

Another difference in the tours is that Charles and Camilla will be here for less than half the time that William and Kate were.

Finch chalks up the difference in large part to cost consciousness — on the part of both the House of Windsor and the Canadian government.

"I think everybody is aware.… that the economic climate is still not great in Britain or in Canada. I think that there is a real desire to have modest celebrations."

Cost of the 2012 visit is estimated at less than $1 million, not including security.

Heritage Minister James Moore has said the 2009 visit by Charles and Camilla cost $1.76 million, but Sun Media reported it was $2.57 million for the trip, based on examining documents obtained through an access to information request.

Moore has said the Queen's 2010 visit cost $2.79 million and last year's visit by William and Kate cost $1.2 million.

Harris also notes that there have been several recent royal visits to Canada, something that may also have played into determining the length of the 2012 tour.

"I think there may have been more of sense this year that a shorter visit was more appropriate because there have been a large number of royal visits."

One similarity between the tours is their inclusion of at least part of a holiday weekend. Last year, William and Kate were in Ottawa for Canada Day, and Charles and Camilla will mark Victoria Day in New Brunswick and Toronto.

"Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are coming for Victoria Day weekend, which has enormous historical significance, this being the jubilee year and Queen Victoria was the only other British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee," says Harris.

"Victoria is also a monarch who has had tremendous influence over Canadian history in the 19th century. So there really is a great deal of historical continuity in having Charles and Camilla's visit coincide with Victoria Day weekend."