'This great country': An inside look at Charles's 50-year romance with Canada

King Charles has been waiting almost his entire life to take the throne. Now, with the late Queen laid to rest, he becomes the head of state for Canada and 14 other Commonwealth realms.

During some of his darkest days, Charles saw Canada as a refuge

King Charles’s deep ties to Canada

1 year ago
Duration 2:31
Britain's new monarch King Charles has deep ties to Canada, forging connections with some Canadians through his charitable work and outreach during his many visits to the country.

King Charles has been waiting almost his entire life to take the throne. Now, with the late Queen laid to rest, he becomes the head of state for Canada and 14 other Commonwealth realms.

Succeeding the longest-reigning monarch in Canadian history leaves Charles with the daunting task of winning over his subjects — some of whom may be skeptical of a sovereign who has had his fair share of bad press.

While Charles was branded a villain of sorts by some in the British media after his failed marriage to Diana and her untimely death in 1997, he's always enjoyed a warmer reception in Canada.

He has shown an affinity for the country, having toured Canada on 18 official visits since 1970.

He's had a number of "private working" trips here as well, including a stint at the Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown, N.B., where he trained as a military pilot after university.

"Every time I come to Canada … a little more of Canada seeps into my bloodstream and from there, straight to my heart," he told a crowd in Newfoundland in 2009.

During his recent tour in May to mark the late Queen's Platinum Jubilee — his only trip to a Commonwealth realm to mark the occasion — Charles praised Canada as a "truly great country" populated by "outward-looking, big-hearted" people.

"As I get older, it is particularly heartwarming to see my children coming to know and love this great country, just as the Queen and my late father have, and I and my wife in turn," he told a crowd in St. John's.

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visit Assumption Catholic School in Ottawa, while on their 2022 Royal Tour to Canada, on May 18. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

His wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, comes by her affection for Canada naturally. Her great-great-great grandfather was Hamilton's Sir Allan McNab, the former prime minister of the pre-Confederation Province of Canada and builder of the city's neoclassical mansion Dundurn Castle.

Canada embraced Charles during his marital troubles

Charles's description of Canadians as a "big-hearted" people isn't just a line written by palace aides. It's something he's experienced personally.

In April 1996, Charles embarked on his first solo trip to Canada in years. He was newly separated from Diana and on the verge of divorce (it was finalized in August). Palace aides were concerned about the reception he'd receive while touring the second-oldest Commonwealth realm (the U.K. is the oldest).

Without Diana or his two charming sons in tow, Charles had to go it alone.

Prince Charles is shown as he arrives at Uplands airbase in Ottawa on April 23, 1996, waiting to be greeted by Gov. Gen. Roméo LeBlanc and other officials. It was Charles's first solo tour in years after his split from Diana. (Andrew Wallace/The Canadian Press)

The crowds were a little thinner than they had been during the tour in 1991 — when Diana, Harry and William were on hand for a seven-day swing through Ontario — but Charles still drew adoring fans at every stop.

CBC archival footage shows the admirers who gathered in Hamilton, Ont. were particularly elated to meet the future King.

Warm welcome for Charles in chilly Churchill, Man.

27 years ago
Duration 2:12
Charles travels north and visits historic Fort Prince of Wales in Manitoba.

"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."

In Churchill, Man., reporters said that what appeared to be the whole town turned out to greet the prince. Schools and businesses were closed to give townspeople a chance to catch a glimpse of royalty.

Royal roadshow reaches Southern Ontario

27 years ago
Duration 2:20
In Hamilton, Ont., Prince Charles gets "a greeting fit for a rock star."

In 1998, after Diana's death, Charles chose Canada as a getaway destination for his grieving sons.

The three made a brief public appearance in Vancouver before retreating to Whistler, B.C. for some private time in the mountains, far away from the media circus in London.

And Canadians largely respected their need for privacy and let them be — which was a relief for the boys, the 15-year-old William and the 13-year-old Harry, who had been scarred by the overzealous paparazzi at home.

Prince William, from left, Prince Charles and Prince Harry smile as they pause for a photo on the slopes of Whistler Mountain, B.C., in this 1998 file image. Charles picked Canada for a getaway after Diana's untimely death. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Charles has returned Canadians' kindness with his own good deeds.

Charles's charity helps military personnel transition

As the Prince of Wales, Charles established the Prince's Trust charity in Canada — an organization that delivers skills training and employment programs to young people and veterans.

The charity has helped scores of armed forces personnel transition to civilian life.

Kristin Topping is the owner of Sweetlife Flora, a plant shop In Arnprior, Ont. that has no obvious connection to monarchy. She gives Charles some credit for her booming e-commerce business, which ships rare tropical plants throughout Canada and the continental U.S.

After sustaining a concussion, Topping was looking for a new job outside the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

An engineer by training, Topping's first instinct was to apply for positions with the Department of National Defence (DND), the RCMP or other security-related organizations — it's what she knew after more than 20 years in the CAF. But she said her heart wasn't in it anymore.

A chance encounter with the Prince's Trust changed her career trajectory. Topping participated in a entrepreneurship workshop with the charity that exposed her to another prospect: turning her passion for plants into a career.

After the first day of the workshop, the air force veteran raced home to register her business and secure the domain name for her website.

She now has more than 185,000 Instagram followers and online orders are coming in at a steady clip. A Prince's Trust mentor helps her deal with the challenges that come with running a fledgling business.

"I know that without the Prince's Trust, I wouldn't be where I am right now," Topping told CBC News.

Kristin Topping, the owner of Sweetlife Flora, was awarded the Prince's Trust Award for her resilience in overcoming her injury and transitioning to a successful career after military service. (CBC News)

"If I hadn't had this opportunity I probably would've gone down a path that would've been detrimental to my health. So what's he actually doing is telling people there are other options out there."

In 2021, in honour of her hard work in overcoming her injury and starting a successful post-military career, Topping received the Prince's Trust Award — one of two people to receive the award that year. She was feted last fall by Charles at Kensington Palace and Windsor Castle.

Charles and the Crown-Indigenous relationship

During his jubilee tour earlier this year, Charles participated in a solemn moment of reflection on Indian residential school deaths in St. John's. He later met with elders and community leaders in the North to hear about the Indigenous experience and the challenges posed by climate change.

It wasn't Charles's first time engaging with these issues.

He's been a champion of the environment for decades — a position that routinely drew sneers from some in the British press who mocked his organic farming and his love of gardening. He's also developed ties with First Nations and Inuit peoples in Canada.

Charles is particularly close with former Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde. The two men first met in 2001 during a stop at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, north of Saskatoon.

A First Nations Chief in ceremonial garb speaks and points off-camera to the right as he stands next to a smiling man in a grey suit lifting one hand up to wave.
Prince Charles waves to the crowds as he arrives with Chief Perry Bellegarde at ceremonies at Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon on April 28, 2001. Charles was given a Cree name and a star blanket — a recognition of his close relationship with Indigenous peoples. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

During that visit, Bellegarde and the late elder Gordon Oakes gave Charles a Cree name — Kisikawpisim Kamiyowahpahmikoot ("The sun watches over him in a good way") — and a star blanket in recognition of the importance of the monarch in Crown-Indigenous relations.

It's an unusual relationship — between Bellegarde, a lifelong anti-colonialist, and Charles, the figurehead of a Commonwealth. Bellegarde told CBC News he sees Charles as an ally of Indigenous peoples.

"He's reflected and acknowledged the travesties of historical wrongs," Bellegarde said.

"I believe he's demonstrated a sincere commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. He's a man of vision and I'm attracted to that kind of leadership, that kind of sincerity, that kind of commitment."

Bellegarde said the treaties signed in what is now Canada were agreements between sovereign Indigenous nations and the Crown — and the reigning monarch is a living embodiment of those foundational documents.

A photo of two smiling men is shown on a tablet screen: at left, one man wears a blue pinstriped suit and blue tie, the other wears a grey suit, blue tie and a medallion.
A screengrab of a photo of former Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde, right, after meeting with Charles at Clarence House. (CBC)

The first formal recognition of Indigenous rights in Canada was contained in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. In that document, King George III declared Indigenous peoples had rights to the lands they occupied and promised to protect and not "molest them."

If there's a move afoot to dump Canada's constitutional monarchy and establish a republic, Bellegarde said, Indigenous peoples must have a say.

"Elected leaders come and go but our relationship with the monarchy and the treaty relationship will last as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. That's enduring and that's forever," he said.


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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