World·Royal Fascinator

Sophie brings empathy to patients and soldiers in Ontario — and hints of future for royal visits

A recent visit by Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, to southern Ontario was both a continuation of the kind she often carries out, as well as a potential signal of the kind of visit that may become more common for a Royal Family with fewer senior working members.

Duchess of Edinburgh's 5-day working visit included time with regiment in Niagara

A person in military fatigues talks to two others in soldier's uniforms.
Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, attends a military skills competition that brought together members of her Canadian- and U.K.-affiliated units during her visit to southern Ontario earlier this month. (Alex Heidbuechel/BLVD Portrait Studio)

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John Baldwin was introduced to Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, briefly outside a room at Toronto Rehab the other day.

But it was his second encounter with Sophie about 20 minutes later in the gym, where he was doing therapy on an exercise machine, that particularly stands out in his mind.

"When she came in, she addressed me by my name. I thought it was wonderful that she actually remembered me and she took about five minutes to ask me what happened to me and how I was progressing and how Toronto Rehab was helping me," Baldwin said in an interview.

"It was wonderful because I really have had a great experience here."

Baldwin, 59, of Toronto, had a stroke in September and came to Toronto Rehab last month.

He was one of several patients, staff members and researchers Sophie met as she spent three days at facilities under the umbrella of the University Health Network (UHN).

A person standing up speaks with a person sitting down.
Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, speaks with Toronto Rehab patient John Baldwin in Toronto on Nov. 8. (Andrew Downs/UHN Foundation)

Sophie's time there was part of a five-day working visit in southern Ontario that included engagements in the Niagara region and Toronto.

The trip for Sophie, who is married to King Charles's brother, Prince Edward, was both a continuation of the kind of visit she often carries out, as well as a potential signal of the sort of visit that may become more common for a Royal Family with fewer senior working members.

"Sophie has carved out quite a unique role in that she's developed a very deep knowledge of global health initiatives," Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said in an interview.

"She has spent a great deal of time behind the scenes at hospitals as well as meeting with patients, so she brings a great deal of knowledge to her role of what patients are going through."

The UHN Foundation welcomed the return visit by Sophie, who has been patron of Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals since 2005.

"She visits hospitals all around the world. So it's actually quite interesting as well to hear her feedback on what she has seen and how does this compare," foundation CEO Julie Quenneville said in an interview. "We always love the conversation with her from that perspective as well."

Innovation was front and centre for Sophie during her visit, including the chance to hear about the role virtual reality can play in low-vision rehabilitation and UHN's creation of a seniors emergency room.

Quenneville said the seniors ER is a "unique concept which [Sophie] was absolutely blown away by, and [she] said that she would most definitely be having conversations all around the world about what she had seen here."

A person throws a large ball to another person in a hospital therapy room.
Sophie takes part in therapy with a patient at Toronto Rehab. (Andrew Downs/UHN Foundation)

UHN staff also welcomed the chance to meet Sophie and see the impact of the empathy she is well-known for sharing with patients.

"It was really helpful for our patients to be able to share their stories," said April Huang, a registered nurse and manager of inpatient stroke services at Toronto Rehab. 

"Sometimes when we are deep into the work that we do, you don't take a step back and … get that bigger view. And so being able to hear the stories [from patients] from when the stroke occurred to where they are now on their journey to recovery was very inspiring."

Huang said it was really great to see Sophie take part in a bit of therapy in their physiotherapy gym, including throwing around a ball with a patient. She also tried out systems in the balance training and movement labs.

"She really just jumped right in and had no hesitation," Huang said.

"It was overall just … a really positive experience for everyone involved."

A person sitting in a treatment chair wears a pair of virtual reality goggles.
Sophie tries on a virtual reality headset that helps with low-vision rehabilitation at Toronto Rehab. (Andrew Downs/UHN Foundation)

Harris said she thinks working visits such as this are going to assume a greater importance for the House of Windsor.

"There are simply fewer members of the Royal Family undertaking official visits," she said.

"I think official visits with so many Commonwealth countries are likely going to take place less often, especially as [heir to the throne Prince] William and Catherine have young children and often step away from royal duties during the school holidays."

Sophie's profile has been on the rise in recent years, and this visit by Sophie had a higher public profile than some recent working visits by other members of the Royal Family — there was a news release announcing it a few days ahead and a royal photographer along for the trip. Harris sees the potential for increased public interest in such visits.

"It's interesting to see that even people who perhaps are not as supportive of constitutional monarchies … admire, for instance, Princess Anne's work with her military regiments or Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh's hospital patronages."

A person talks to other people as they are walking along the shore of a lake.
Participants in the military skills competition took part in events including navigation, observation, open water rescue and obstacle courses. (Alex Heidbuechel/BLVD Portrait Studio)

Sophie's time in Niagara included a visit with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, where she has been honorary colonel in chief since 2004. A central focus of this visit was a military skills competition that brought together members of her Canadian- and U.K.-affiliated units.

Lt.-Col. Philip Dyson, commanding officer of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, said in an interview that he believes Sophie sees her responsibility as very important.

"You can see in her actions, her interactions with all the soldiers, she's interested in all of them. Her point when she was on the range … was not to see all the competitions going on, but was to meet and greet all the soldiers, and she did that. 

"She talked with all of them in groups, with their teams and got photos with them and the interaction was positive. You could see the laughing, the joking around, the smiles going on with everybody. It was great to see."

An adult kneels down to speak with children.
Sophie, right, meets with family members of serving members of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment in St. Catharines on Nov. 5. (Alex Heidbuechel/BLVD Portrait Studio)

Back at Toronto Rehab, Baldwin also appreciated the opportunity to tell Sophie that his three children had taken part in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, the international youth award program launched in 1956 by her late father-in-law, Prince Philip.

"I was very proud of my children and I could see that she recognized that," said Baldwin.

"She had a mask on …. [so] I didn't see a smile, but you know how you can see sometimes in someone's eyes that they're smiling — that actually meant a lot to me."

A milestone birthday for a monarch 'just getting started'

A person points toward a plate of food sitting on a counter as other people look on.
King Charles, right, and Queen Camilla, centre, meet staff in the kitchen during the launch of the Coronation Food Project at the South Oxfordshire Food and Education Alliance, a surplus food distribution centre, on Tuesday in Didcot, England. (Ian Volger/Getty Images)

As King Charles marked his 75th birthday on Tuesday, there was a mix of public and private recognition of the milestone — and a hint of his priorities for the future.

Central to the day was the launch of the Coronation Food Project, which aims to help people facing food poverty. 

"Food need is as real and urgent a problem as food waste — and if a way could be found to bridge the gap between them, then it would address two problems in one," Charles wrote in an article for the Big Issue, a magazine sold by people who are homeless.

Charles also hosted a reception on Tuesday for nurses and midwives in the National Health Service, itself also marking its 75th year in 2023.

"He has made it very plain that he intends to be a King who does his best to make a difference, and that was what was his main priority in celebrating his 75th birthday," Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, said in an interview.

"He is conscious of the fact that if the monarchy as an institution is to survive, it must have some kind of relevance, some kind of perceived usefulness, and I think that explains how and why he celebrated his birthday as he did."

A person holding a glass talks with several other people.
King Charles, left, attends a reception to celebrate nurses and midwives working in the U.K., at Buckingham Palace in London on Tuesday. The reception was part of the National Health Service's NHS 75 celebrations, and also part of the King's 75th birthday events. (Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

There was also a private dinner at Clarence House Tuesday night with family members.

Rowbotham doubts it was a lavish affair, as was suggested in some media reports.

"People were seen departing before midnight," she said. 

"This was no Cinderella occasion where the fun's going on and Cinderella leaves early. Everybody's leaving early, and I strongly suspect that the King retired to bed with considerable gratitude. He'd had a pretty full day."

One family member not present was his younger son, Prince Harry. The BBC reported that it was expected Charles would be getting a phone call from Harry, who lives in California.

A person stands beside a table with a three-tier cake on it.
King Charles poses with his cake as he attends his 75th birthday party hosted by the Prince's Foundation at Highgrove House on Monday in Tetbury, England. Guests included local residents who have been nominated by friends and family and individuals and organizations also turning 75 in 2023. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Harris said turning 75 is a significant milestone for a monarch, but one with a different perspective for Charles.

"Traditionally monarchs who were in their 70s were seen as coming to the end of their reigns," she said. 

"Whereas we're seeing for King Charles III, there's a celebration of decades of public service as Prince of Wales and he's just getting started as monarch."

Coins change for King Charles — and a statue is unveiled for Queen Elizabeth

Three people remove a cover from a large replica coin.
Royal Canadian Mint president and CEO Marie Lemay, left, and Canadian portrait artist Steven Rosati, right, unveil a replica of the first Canadian coins featuring the face of King Charles on Tuesday at the mint's Winnipeg location. (Anne-Louise Michel/Radio-Canada)

As King Charles turned 75, the first Canadian coins featuring his face made their debut in Winnipeg.

"Since 1953, the portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth has graced the obverse of Canadian coins. Today, 70 years later, a new chapter in Canadian history begins," mint president and CEO Marie Lemay said during a news conference Tuesday at the Royal Canadian Mint plant that produces circulation coins.

The first coins with Charles on one side could start turning up in circulation in December.

The coins follow a long-standing tradition with the monarch facing the opposite direction to their predecessor: Charles is looking to the left.

Harris said it was interesting to hear word of the new coins on Charles's 75th birthday.

"At a time when there's so much press coverage of 75th birthday celebrations in the United Kingdom, the release of the new currency showing King Charles III brought a Canadian dimension to the celebrations, that this is in a sense Canada's gift."

Numerous newly-minted coins are shown displaying the effigy of King Charles.
Loonies with the effigy of King Charles on them are struck at an event celebrating the first coin struck at the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The glimpse of the new coins wasn't the only recent unveiling of a Canadian representation of a monarch.

A newly placed statue of Charles's mother was unveiled at the Ontario legislature in Toronto.

The bronze statue shows Queen Elizabeth in 1977 delivering a speech on Canadian unity from the Canadian Senate.

A close up view of a bronze statue honouring Queen Elizabeth is pictured here at Queen's Park in Toronto, on Nov. 7, 2023.
A bronze statue honouring Queen Elizabeth was unveiled at Queen's Park in Toronto on Nov. 7. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

The sculpture set off discussion for some about the impression it left of a monarch known for her devotion to duty during a 70-year reign. 

"Some thought this was a very regal portrayal, that there she is seated on a throne in Canada in a Canadian context," Harris said.

"Others thought that her expression was too stern and severe," and noted that "the Queen also did have a sense of humour and a twinkle in her eye," Harris said.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth sits in front of brick building.
The Queen Elizabeth statue joins a statue of Queen Victoria elsewhere on the grounds of the legislature, which is known as Queen's Park. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"It's interesting to see that when a new statue is unveiled, it leads to debate and discussion about the Queen's legacy and the public's memories of the Queen — some remembering her as this very serious, dutiful figure whose image is captured by this statue, and others remembering more informal moments on royal walkabouts where they remember the Queen smiling." 

With files from The Canadian Press

Royally quotable

"If we don't put these building blocks in place when we're young, we find it much harder to manage ourselves, communicate and connect to others and engage with the world around us in adulthood."

— Catherine, Princess of Wales, in what's been called her biggest speech yet on the issue she is most passionate about: early childhood.

Royal reads 

  1. Prince Harry can go ahead with claims against publishers of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday of unlawfully obtaining information, as a court ruling opened the way for a trial. [BBC]

  2. The first four episodes of the final series of Netflix's The Crown started streaming Thursday, and they have split critics. Staying on the topic of the show, a writer with the Guardian suggests that as the series comes to an end, it's also increasingly clear what it started: a seismic shift in royal representation on stage and screen. [BBC, The Guardian]

  3. There have been two high-profile appearances in London for King Charles in recent days: leading Remembrance Sunday, and his first King's speech as monarch to open the British Parliament. [ITV, The Guardian]

  4. Prince William says he hopes to expand his Earthshot Prize program into a global movement to bolster environmental innovators and galvanize governments to be more engaged in green sectors so that climate change would be easier to tackle. [The Independent]

  5. Catherine, Princess of Wales, drove a seven-tonne armoured vehicle equipped with a machine gun and was described as "a natural" on her first visit as colonel in chief to 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards. [The Independent]

  6. The amateur historian who found Richard III's remains beneath a Leicester car park has unearthed evidence that could upturn the central theory about what happened to the Princes in the Tower. [Daily Mail]

A person wearing camouflage gear is seen in an armoured vehicle.
Catherine, Princess of Wales, drives an armoured vehicle as she visits 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards for the first time as their colonel in chief, in Dereham, England, on Nov. 8. (Chris Radburn/Reuters)

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

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