What Canada meant to the Queen

When Queen Elizabeth began her last visit to Canada, she talked of coming "home," a remark she had made frequently during her 22 official visits to the country.

Monarch made 22 official visits to the country, spoke of it as ‘home’

Queen Elizabeth inspects the honour guard during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2010. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

When Queen Elizabeth began her last visit to Canada, she talked of coming "home."

"Canadians have, by their own endeavours, built a country and society which is widely admired across the world. I am fortunate to have been a witness to many of the developments and accomplishments of modern Canada," she said after she arrived in Halifax in 2010.

"As Queen of Canada for nearly six decades, my pride in this country remains undimmed. Thank you again for your welcome. It is very good to be home."

That remark 12 years ago was hardly the only time Elizabeth offered such a view of Canada.

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And it echoed frequently after her death on Thursday, when former Canadian prime ministers and the current Governor General offered their thoughts and condolences.

"Her Majesty cared about people, about our well-being. This was clear every time we spoke. She cared about Canada, and all the unique stories that make up our beautiful country," Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said. "She learned our stories as she visited every corner of Canada during her many royal tours. She called Canada her 'second home.'"

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Several hallmarks of Elizabeth's 70-year reign — her devotion to duty and her role — are well-known, but what she really thought when it came to matters of state and politics was not.

Yet from her earliest visit to Canada — in 1951, as Princess Elizabeth, before she became Queen — she offered comments on the impressions she had of the country.

"I am sure that nowhere under the sun could one find a land more full of hope, of happiness and of fine, loyal, generous-hearted people," she said after returning to the United Kingdom, following the trip she had made on behalf of her ailing father, King George VI.

She also engaged in some prognostication.

"They have placed in our hearts a love for their country and its people which will never grow cold and which will always draw us to their shores."

Turns out she was drawn to Canadian shores for 22 official visits, making it the country she visited most in the Commonwealth. 

In 1951, Princess Elizabeth made her first royal visit to Canada. Here, the princess and Prince Philip arrive at the Canadian National Exhibition stadium in Toronto on Oct. 13. (The Associated Press)

'Canada was the country she visited the most'

Canada was the "senior dominion," said John Fraser, author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada's Affair with Royalty, something he thinks "actually resonated with her."

"We were the lynchpin, one of the key flying buttresses of her Commonwealth mystique," he added.

"Canada was the country she visited the most and clearly because it's the one she could resonate most clearly her commitment to the Commonwealth."

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Thinking about all this prompted Fraser, founding president and a fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada, to recall a moment when a reference to the Queen popped up in a conversation he had with Mark Carney, just before the former head of the Bank of Canada took up his post as head of the Bank of England in 2013. 

"He said, 'You'll be amused to know that when the Queen was informed that a Canadian was going to be the new head of the Bank of England,' she said, 'Good, Canadians are sensible.'"

Beyond her appreciation for Canada "for its own sake" and as the "senior of the realms," Fraser said, Elizabeth found listening to a Canadian prime minister could be useful in her dealings with a British prime minister.

Queen Elizabeth looks on as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signs the constitional proclamation on April 17, 1982, on Parliament Hill. (The Canadian Press)

In the summer of 1973, Ottawa was hosting the second Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. But the British prime minister of the day, Edward Heath, wasn't so keen on those meetings. 

"Heath advised [the Queen] not to come to Canada because [Ugandan President] Idi Amin was coming, and Heath of course hated the Commonwealth and was pushing to get England into the European Community," said Fraser.

In the end, according to author Philip Murphy in his book, Monarchy and the End of Empire, the palace accepted an invitation from the Canadian prime minister of the day — Pierre Trudeau — for the Queen to attend, with her accepting as the Queen of Canada.

"The Queen was able to parlay the advice from her Canadian prime minister, who happened to be the host, to counter the advice she got from her British prime minister," Fraser said Thursday.

"There were practical things that her being head of state of Canada allowed her to do to control her other prime ministers."

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'Not just a fair-weather friend'

As much as the Queen frequently said Canada was "home," there could have been some politics at work in that, too.

She was also "home in Australia, also home in New Zealand," Fraser said. 

Speeches by royal visitors like the Queen and her successor — now King Charles, who visited Canada in May — are written and/or cleared by the Canadian government. One notable speech came at a time when Canada was mired in constitutional problems after the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord.

While visiting Ottawa on Canada Day in 1990, she reminded Canadians that she is "not just a fair-weather friend."

"She said she was glad to be there during a difficult time, that was why she said that she wasn't just there for the happy times — that goes with the business, and I think it was sincere," said Fraser.

Queen Elizabeth drops the puck during the ceremonial face-off between Markus Naslund, right, of the Vancouver Canucks and Mike Ricci of the San Jose Sharks at General Motors Place in Vancouver on Oct. 6, 2002. Looking on is Ed Jovanovski, left, Cassie Campbell and Wayne Gretzky. (Chuck Stoody/The Canadian Press)

Another difficult moment in Quebec in 1964 could also have left its mark on the Queen, when anti-royal and separatist demonstrators chanted "Elizabeth stay at home." 

"I'm sure the famous trip to Quebec [in 1964], when the backs were turned on her … that clearly must have factored in her thinking and part of her evolution of her understanding of her role, that these volatile things can happen even in secure dominions," said Fraser. 

"I'm sure that had some effect on her."

Last public statement was to Canada

Canada was also on the Queen's mind in her final days.

"I would like to extend my condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the attacks that occurred this past weekend in Saskatchewan," she said in her last public statement, which was issued on Wednesday, the day before her death.

"My thoughts and prayers are with those recovering from injuries, and grieving such horrific losses. I mourn with all Canadians at this tragic time."

Queen Elizabeth visits the Royal Canadian Mounted Police depot division in Regina on May 19, 2005. (Department of Canadian Heritage)

The Queen's representative in Saskatchewan, Lt.-Gov. Russ Mistry, said that with her death, "the world has lost a remarkable individual," one who exemplified integrity, humility, inner strength and outward grace.

"As Queen of Canada, she remarked often on the service of our citizens, our commitment to multiculturalism and our potential to influence the world," Mistry said in a statement.

"Her Majesty was very fond of Canada and Canadians and thought of our country as her home away from home. She was committed to reconciliation and acknowledged the painful history that Indigenous peoples endured in residential schools in Canada, as well as the work that remains to heal and to continue to build an inclusive society," he said.

"While we mourn her loss, we can also give thanks for her extraordinary contributions to Canada and the world." 


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

With files from CBC News

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