World·Royal Fascinator

Why the Queen herself has twice delivered Canada's speech from the throne

This week saw Gov. Gen. Julie Payette carry out one of her more significant parliamentary duties as the Queen's representative — opening up the new session of Canada's Parliament by delivering the speech from the throne. But there have been two occasions in which the Queen herself has read the throne speech in Ottawa.

Both of Queen Elizabeth's speeches marked key events in her reign, says a royal historian

Queen Elizabeth reads the throne speech in the Senate chambers on Oct. 18, 1977, officially opening the session of Parliament. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau sits to the right of the Queen. ( The Canadian Press)

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Our CBC colleague and senior reporter Mark Gollom took a look this week at the two occasions in which Queen Elizabeth opened Parliament in Canada:

This week saw Gov. Gen. Julie Payette carry out one of her more significant parliamentary duties as the Queen's representative — opening up the new session of Canada's Parliament by delivering the speech from the throne.

It's referred to as such because, quite simply, the speech to outline the federal government's priorities for that session of Parliament is read from the throne, or seat, that is reserved in the Senate chamber for the Queen or her royal representative.

But there have been two occasions in which the Queen herself has sat in that seat and read the speech from the throne in Ottawa.

"Both of Queen Elizabeth II's speeches marked key events in her reign," said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.

The first was on Oct. 14, 1957, and it marked the Queen's first visit to Canada as a reigning monarch and the first time the monarch opened Parliament in Canada.

The visit lasted four days, limited to Ottawa, and occurred during John Diefenbaker's first year in office as prime minister.

Prince Philip listens as the Queen reads the speech from the throne opening Parliament on Oct. 14, 1957. (The Canadian Press)

"Diefenbaker's government had only been elected in June of that year, so the visit was evidently arranged at short notice and was a coup for the minority Conservative government," said Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada.

Diefenbaker "held a deep respect for the monarchy," and he took "special care to ensure that this event be shared across the country," according to the Diefenbaker Canada Centre website.

"Television cameras appeared for the first time in the House of Commons and in the Senate as the CBC broadcast the speech nationwide," the website said.

The Queen began the speech noting that this marked "the first time the representatives of the people of Canada and their sovereign are here assembled on the occasion of the opening of Parliament."

"This is for all of us a moment to remember," the Queen said.

Canadian journalist and author June Callwood, writing for Maclean's about the royal visit to Canada, wrote that the Queen read the speech "in a bath of spotlights that brought the temperature of the room to [33 C]."

Indeed, the strong lights, needed for a National Film Board documentary of the visit, blew all the fuses in the House of Commons just five minutes before the Queen's arrival, Callwood wrote.

"For four minutes and five seconds, there was total power failure. CBC technicians wept when power was restored, with 55 seconds to go," she wrote.

The Queen's second throne speech read in Canada came 20 years later, on Oct. 18, 1977, as part of her Silver Jubilee tour.

This was a five-day visit, again limited to Ottawa, but as Jackson notes, the government at the time may not have been as keen about the event as the Diefenbaker government.

The Queen's 1977 throne speech in Canada came as part of her Silver Jubilee tour. (The Canadian Press)

It came during Pierre Trudeau's time in office, and, as Jackson wrote in his 2013 book The Crown and Canadian Federalism, some members of the prime minister's cabinet supported eliminating the monarchy.

The government "was reluctant" to celebrate the Queen's jubilee and "grudgingly, it arranged a short visit to Ottawa," Jackson wrote.

Still, in the opening passages of the throne speech, the Queen remarked how she had "greatly looked forward to being with you here in the Canadian Parliament in my Silver Jubilee year."

"Whenever I am in this wonderful country of Canada, with her vast resources and unlimited challenges, I feel thankful that Canadians have been so successful in establishing a vigorous democracy well suited to a proud and free people."

That was the last time the Queen has opened Parliament in the country, something that Robert Finch, dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, finds regrettable.

"I think we have missed a few good opportunities over the years by not having the Queen deliver the speech from the throne more often," he said.

"The throne speech gives us one day where we are all reminded of the Crown's role in Parliament. To have had the Queen do it herself more often would have really helped drive home the reality that Canada is a constitutional monarchy and that she is the Queen of Canada."

Royal brothers don't always get along

Prince Albert (later King George VI), left, and Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) circa 1900. Albert would find himself unexpectedly on the throne after his older brother's abdication in 1936. (Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

When word spread recently that a statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, will be unveiled next year in a garden at Kensington Palace, some observers wondered if its installation on July 1 — which would have been her 60th birthday — will encourage some sort of rapprochement between her sons.

Much speculation has swirled about the nature of the relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry, particularly as their lives have taken them in different directions: William on the path expected of someone who is a direct heir to the throne, and Harry, farther down the line, finding a new life in California.

Whatever the exact nature of their relationship — and whether there is froideur, if not friction — it would hardly be the first time distance had developed between royal siblings who once were very close.

"When we look at history, often it's a challenge for royal siblings to all be in the same place … and as they grow older, often, the experience of heirs to the throne tends to diverge from that of younger royal children," said Harris.

Speculation has swirled about the nature of the relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry, pictured at the annual Commonwealth Service at London's Westminster Abbey on March 9. (Phil Harris/Reuters)

Take, for example, King Edward VIII, who ruled from January to December 1936. Edward's younger brother Albert found himself unexpectedly on the throne as King George VI after his older brother abdicated in order to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

"His younger brothers looked up to him when they were young, but then the abdication crisis happens and that causes a lot of strain," said Harris.

Edward "was continuing to insist on the details of his income and whether [his wife] the Duchess of Windsor would be addressed as her royal highness … so certainly there's a great deal of strain between the two brothers," said Harris.

Royal historian Carolyn Harris says the abdication crisis caused a lot of strain between George VI, left, and Edward VIII. (AFP/Getty Images)

Go back a few generations, and everything was not all sunshine and light among all nine of Queen Victoria's children.

"The future Edward the Seventh and Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, were associated with much more partying and society life whereas it was actually the younger sons … seen by Queen Victoria herself, as being more responsible," said Harris.

Victoria leaned on her youngest son, Leopold, "as a kind of private secretary," Harris said, noting he was a hemophiliac and couldn't go into the military, a common occupation for royal men at the time.

"There's some evidence of jealousy, that for the future Edward the Seventh, he was heir to the throne, he would have expected to be in that role of assisting his mother with her state duties."

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Harris sees some parallels among Victoria's nine children and William and Harry in how the siblings were close when they were young, particularly because they were living in the shadow of a parent's death.

Victoria's children "had lost their father, Prince Albert, and particularly the younger ones, growing up in this atmosphere of mourning brought them together."

But there was a sense that over time, Queen Victoria didn't treat them all equally.

"She had more confidence [in] some of her children's advice or abilities than others, and so that created some strain within Queen Victoria's extended family," said Harris.

Kate documents Britons' lives under lockdown

Kate Middleton launched the Hold Still photography project in May in collaboration with London's National Portrait Gallery. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The final selections have been unveiled for Kate Middleton's Hold Still photography project, which aims to capture life in the U.K. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project, which the Duchess of Cambridge launched in May in collaboration with London's National Portrait Gallery, invited people of all ages to submit a photo focused on three core themes: Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness. From over 31,000 submissions, a panel of five judges, including Kate, selected 100 portraits to be featured in a digital exhibition.

"The images present a unique record of our shared and individual experiences during this extraordinary period of history, conveying humour and grief, creativity and kindness, tragedy and hope," read a message on the Kensington Royal Instagram account announcing the final 100 portraits on Sept. 14.

In the weeks after the project launched, Kate was spotted leaving encouraging messages underneath Instagram posts of people who submitted photos using the hashtags #HoldStill and #HoldStill2020, per Cosmopolitan.

On an image of a health-care worker in full uniform, Kate commented, "Thank you so much for sharing your story and for all the amazing work you continue to do at this difficult time," signing off with a "C," for Catherine. On another image of a young child blowing on a dandelion, Kate wrote, "A perfect example of Hold Still … the chance to re-engage and value the simple things around us."

The final selections for the project reveal the breadth of Britons' experiences during the pandemic. One shows a five-year-old boy with leukemia receiving chemotherapy at home during lockdown. Another shows a woman at a Black Lives Matter protest at the U.S. Embassy in London holding a sign reading, "Be on the right side of history."

Others show physically distanced kisses and exhausted health-care workers. Each image comes with text from the entrants themselves revealing the story behind the picture.

The Queen, with whom Kate shared a number of the portraits ahead of the exhibition's debut, has also released a congratulatory statement on the project, saying, "The Duchess of Cambridge and I were inspired to see how the photographs have captured the resilience of the British people at such a challenging time."

Royals in Canada

Queen Elizabeth was met by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauvé in Moncton, N.B., after arriving for a two-week visit to Canada on Sept. 24, 1984. (Fred Chartand/The Canadian Press)

Queen Elizabeth is scrupulous about staying out of the politics of the day, and one visit to Canada made that abundantly clear. Her 1984 trip to mark the bicentennials of Ontario and New Brunswick, along with the sesquicentennial of Toronto, was delayed by two months to avoid a federal election.

When she and Prince Philip arrived in Moncton on Sept. 24, they were greeted by a prime minister only just settling into his new job. Brian Mulroney, fresh off the Progressive Conservatives' landslide victory, welcomed the royal couple and was with them at several points during the visit.

The Queen and Prince Philip depart Parliament Hill in Ottawa for Government House on Sept. 26, 1984, accompanied by RCMP. (Fred Sherwin/The Canadian Press)

Often asked to oversee official openings, the Queen had the chance to do that at two high-profile places: the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and Science North in Sudbury.

The 13-day visit also came shortly after the birth of her third grandson, Prince Harry. His arrival, The Canadian Press reported at the time, was recognized by the Province of Ontario with the gift of a natural willow bassinet that was presented to Buckingham Palace officials.

Royally quotable

"The borderless climate, biodiversity and health crises are all symptoms of a planet that has been pushed beyond its planetary boundaries. Without swift and immediate action at an unprecedented pace and scale, we will miss the window of opportunity to reset for a green-blue recovery and a more sustainable and inclusive future. In other words, the global pandemic is a wake-up call we simply cannot ignore."

  • Prince Charles, in a virtual keynote speech to launch Climate Week NYC 2020 this week. A longtime advocate for the environment, the prince called for a military-style response akin to the U.S. Marshall Plan to rebuild post-war Europe.

Royal reads

  1. With Barbados declaring its intention to remove the Queen as head of state, some residents of the English Berkshire town of Reading — home to one of the largest Barbadian diasporas outside of Barbados — explain why they believe "the time is right." [The Guardian]

  2. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle celebrated Harry's 36th birthday on Sept. 15 by donating $130,000 to CAMFED, a charity that supports girls' education in Africa. [Vanity Fair]

  3. Activist Gloria Steinem revealed in an Access Hollywood interview that she and Meghan Markle cold-called U.S. voters to encourage them to vote in November's presidential election. [Harper's Bazaar]

  4. Sophie, Countess of Wessex, had her likeness captured in a clay bust during a live-streamed sculpture session. She was promoting the U.K.'s Vision Foundation and their work for blind and partially sighted people, a cause with which she has a personal connection. [Vanity Fair]


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About the Author

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

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