Today marks the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II, and so also represents a milestone in the life of Canada. In 1951, Princess Elizabeth declared, “We belong to Canada.” The following year, she was Queen of Canada, and in the intervening years we have all been witness to the truth of that statement.
The Queen has shared in major moments in the life of the country. She opened the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 with U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower, during what’s been called the last great royal progress, a 45-day tour that saw her, with Prince Philip at her side, travel 15,000 miles across Canada. The Queen attended Expo 67, opened the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and in Victoria in 1994. She proclaimed the Constitution Act, 1982, on Parliament Hill, and helped raise the country’s spirits after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, saying she was “not a fair-weather friend.”
Indeed she has not been.
The Crown is inextricably part of Canada’s national identity, representing Canada’s traditions and all those old virtues, duty, loyalty, service and community. But the Crown also represents Canada’s present, its democratic institutions and the respect for the rule of law, and if the enormously enthusiastic crowds last summer for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are any indication, it represents Canada’s future as well.
The Queen has served this country with dignity, graciousness and wisdom, and she is deservedly held in great esteem by Canadians. Not many Canadians remember a time when she was not there, and many hold personal memories of the sovereign over those six decades. In many respects, what the poet Ted Hughes once wrote is true, that they see in this Queen “their life.”
Today, the first of 60,000 Canadians will be honoured by the Queen, and the country, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. The medal is deeply meaningful, insofar as it comes from the monarch and yet is also in commemoration of her. So we pause to reflect on the young woman whose accession occurred in Kenya, at age 25, and her notion of devotion to service, loyalty and larger values of community, which has remained unaltered throughout her life.
We are in the sunset years of what is likely to be our longest, and perhaps most successful reign. Even agnostics might on this occasion be tempted to say God Save the Queen.