Royal visit 2014: How Prince Charles is forging his own ties to Canada

What do sheep farmers, disadvantaged youth, ex-soldiers and polar bears have in common? The heir to the throne's charitable initiatives and interests will be a focus during this current trip to Canada.

Heir to the throne's charitable initiatives will be focus of four-day stop

Prince Charles's charitable initiatives and interests in Canada will be a focus of his attention during a four-day visit to Canada. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

At first glance, the Canadians on the long list of those Prince Charles is trying to help seem to have little in common.

There are, among others, sheep farmers, disadvantaged youth and soldiers trying to find their way after their military service has ended. Polar bears even make the grade.

Prince Charles talks with CBC

Prince of Wales: The Conversation with George Stroumboulopoulos airs on May 20 at  8 p.m. on CBC Television, 8:30 NT.

They'll all have at least a few moments of his attention over the next few days, as the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, make a whistle-stop Canadian tour that begins Sunday evening in Halifax and ends Wednesday night in Winnipeg.

In an exclusive CBC interview with George Stroumboulopoulos ahead of the visit, the heir to the throne said he feels a "great interest in everything that's going on in Canada" and that fitting everything into his schedule when he visits is getting more difficult.

"It gets busier and busier because I have more and more organizations that I'm involved with and try to take an interest in."

Those who question the role of the monarchy today might shrug: What possible relevance could a 65-year-old British blue blood who spent his formative years in a palace have on the lives of ordinary people?

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Charles, however, seems determined to show them otherwise, and feels he has a duty to help.

"There is an enormous amount that needs doing," he told Stroumbouloupolous. "There are masses of people who need help and encouragement. I'm just one of those people who minds, so when I find things aren't happening somewhere, I want to do something about it."

Some of his interests and initiatives organized under the four-year-old umbrella of his Prince's Charities Canada will be front and centre during the visit, whether at the Military Resource Centre in Halifax, Bonshaw Provincial Park in P.E.I., or Innovation Alley in Winnipeg.

Building a legacy

"He's always known that his impact on Canadian society, on British society, on Australian society is not going to be as king. It’s going to be as Prince of Wales," says Matthew Rowe, manager of operations and partnership for the Prince's Charities Canada.

Prince Charles chats with Canadian theatre producer Marla Rubin during a reception for Canadians living and working in the U.K. at St James's Palace in London on May 14, 2014, four days before he and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, leave for visit to Canada. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

"So it's through this charitable work that he's really building his legacy to bequeath to his citizens."

Within that charitable work, there is a unifying theme — "in one word, harmony," says Rowe.

They also have four areas of focus.

"There's education and young people; responsible business, responsible enterprise; the built environment, which is urban planning, the communities we live in, heritage, that sort of thing; and global sustainability," says Rowe.

Charles's charitable endeavours go back 40 years and first evolved out of his separation pay from the British navy. They have grown to include 17 charities he's founded and which raise $200 million annually and employ 1,800 people, says Rowe. "It's staggering."

Today, the Canadian branch has an annual budget of about $1 million, and its founding patrons are Galen and Hilary Weston, personal friends of Charles and Camilla, and one of Canada's richest families and biggest benefactors.

CEOs helping youth

One initiative organized through the foundation is the Prince's Seeing is Believing campaign, which brings high-level business leaders together to focus on finding training and job opportunities for disadvantaged youth. Results have included an aboriginal youth hiring initiative led by the heads of Xerox Canada and the Toronto Board of Trade.

I don't feel it's just someone lending a name. He really is engaged and has been as we know for decades.- Mandy Shapansky

"We set up a round table with some CEOs and Native Child [and Family Services of Toronto] looking for a process on how to provide employment opportunities to youth," says Xerox Canada CEO Mandy Shapansky.

"We had a career day after that and I'm happy to say we found job opportunities for nine youth, which may not sound like a lot, but it's actually a difficult process."

Shapansky had also taken part in a round table on the environment with Prince Charles, and says she knows "first hand the incredible passion and depth of knowledge" he has on social issues.

"I don't feel it's just someone lending a name. He really is engaged and has been as we know for decades." It's a plus, she adds, that "he's got some clout."

Rowe says the Seeing in Believing initiative is "in the process of morphing into something much bigger," with a national network to be launched when Charles is in Winnipeg next week.

All of Charles's charitable efforts flow from the belief that one of his roles "as heir to the throne and eventually king of Canada is to create the type of society that is going to be enduring, long-lasting," says Rowe.

"Monarchs and members of the Royal Family by nature of their positions take the long-term view. They're not concerned about day-to-day polls. They're looking at the overall direction of their society, and they want to ensure that everyone is brought along as part of it."

As far as polls go, there have been those who have suggested Charles's popularity isn't that of his elder son, Prince William. His mother, the Queen, also enjoys considerable popularity and respect.

But his charitable efforts, and more frequent visits to Canada in recent years, afford him the opportunity to boost his profile.

Establishing a rapport

"I think it's very important that he establish a personal rapport with Canadians [because] ... when he succeeds to the throne, [it] will be a time that Canada and any other Commonwealth realms will debate their future relationship with the monarchy," says Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and blogger.

Prince Charles leaves First Nations University in Regina on May 23, 2012. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"If Prince Charles is seen as an integral part of Canadian society and institutions, he's far more likely to receive a great deal of popular support for his ascension to the throne."

Charles has been coming to Canada since 1970 — this is his 17th visit — although his ties to the country are older: There's a picture of him as a child wearing a Mountie suit that had been given to his mother.

Harris feels that Charles's relationship with Canada now is a warm one.

"He's visited every province and territory, and Canada has been a place where the Prince of Wales has been able to express his love of the natural world."

But she also allows that "his reputation in Canada has varied over the past few decades." She notes that the prince and his first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, were well received in 1983, the last time he was in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Then came the breakdown of that marriage, a time when Charles's popularity plunged.

Social entrepreneur

Rowe acknowledges that there were periods in the past when Charles "may not have been as personally popular" as others in the Royal Family. But he suggests that when you look at the "body of work that he's taken on over the past four decades," he's not "late to the party."

Prince Charles wears headphones as learns how to scratch and fade with a turntable while he tours an employment skills workshop in Toronto on May 22, 2012. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"He's really one of the world's foremost social entrepreneurs."

In fact, others argue that he has been ahead of the curve. 

"A lot of the philanthropic initiatives that were brought in that were considered rather controversial or unusual in the 1980s, like his interest in organic farming or his interest in fostering dialogue between the different religions and initiatives for unemployed youth, now these are seen as very prescient interests," says Harris.

When Charles and Camilla were in Canada in 2009, there were sparse crowds in some places and anxious moments in another when riot police had to push back about 200 anti-monarchists before the royal couple visited an armoury in Montreal. A visit to New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan two years ago to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was better received.

This time around, their schedule is jammed with events in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Manitoba.

Among those getting ready to meet Charles and Camilla are John and Gillian Crawford, sheep farmers in River John, N.S.

Warm and wooly

Prince's Charities Canada is launching a Campaign for Wool initiative, and some sheep and lambs from the Crawfords' herd will be spiffied up and on hand when the royal couple is at the Hector Heritage Quay in Pictou on Monday.

The initiative is to show "wool as a sustainable fabric, as something that supports rural livelihoods, rural economies and a really interesting and versatile fabric that happens to be antimicrobial, flame retardant, all these things," says Rowe.

Gillian Crawford said they were honoured to be asked to provide sheep for the visit and welcome the interest shown in their industry, which is in tough economic straits right now.

"Anything that will promote what we're doing is a good thing," she said, noting they often feel as farmers that people rarely think about them.

"We’re delighted. It’s a real honour to be asked to do it, so we want to put up a good show."