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With King Charles III’s coronation, five Canadians reflect on what the monarchy means to them and to the country

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On May 6, Charles III will be crowned as king of the United Kingdom, Canada and 13 other Commonwealth realms. The Globe and Mail spoke with five Canadians about their feelings on that.Photo illustration by The Globe and Mail

In Canada, what the monarchy represents depends on who you ask – whether it’s royal walkabouts and glimpses of Queen Elizabeth II waving at cheering crowds, or a living embodiment of treaty agreements with Indigenous peoples and a symbol of colonial violence. The Globe and Mail spoke with five Canadians whose perspectives highlight the nuances of what the monarchy means to the country today, and where it could go in the future.

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El Jones feels that colonial violence, and the ways that it enriched the Royal Family, need to be acknowledged.Handout

El Jones

Poet, activist and professor based in Halifax

My father is Welsh and my mother is from Trinidad. Those are colonized countries, so on both sides of my family, I have acute awareness of the history of the monarchy.

For a long time, the monarchy was treated as this benign phenomenon. The real histories of colonial violence have been suppressed and erased. They continue to sit on the wealth that comes from enslavement and colonization, and get coronated using jewels that come from countries that were extracted without permission. This is not ancient history.

Our inability to confront colonial histories speaks to our unwillingness to confront our own colonial history in this country as well: our own genocide of Indigenous peoples, our own theft of land. These are dynamics that form Canada, and people are extremely hostile to being honest about that.

On Canada Day of 2021, protesters in Winnipeg – angered by recent findings of unmarked graves at residential schools – vandalized and toppled a statue of Victoria outside the Manitoba legislature. Its head was thrown into the Assiniboine River. No new statue has been erected in its place. Shannon VanRaes/Reuters; Kelly Geraldine Malone/The Canadian Press

We’ve seen Barbados leave the monarchy, Jamaica is now leaving and other countries will probably follow suit.

The complication in Canada is the Indigenous treaties are with the Crown, so there’s a specific relationship that’s meaningful in terms of our obligation to treaty.

If we were to abolish the monarchy, we would have to rewrite our constitution. And is it worth it for something that for most people feels remote? When we have other issues going on – when inflation is up, when we have a housing crisis.

But we’re long past the time of upholding hereditarily wealthy people as some kind of symbols, and maintaining medieval structures of power and kingship. In 2023, why is that a thing? If we don’t want to get rid of the political piece, can’t we at least stop engaging in symbolism from 1,000 years ago?

And the symbols that we uphold do matter because they speak about how we see ourselves, what we aspire to and the kind of political narratives we value.

We can’t do the work we need to do as a country if we continue to uphold symbols of slavery, colonialism and violence.

Allisun Dalzell’s home in Beaconsfield, Que., is decorated with pictures of the Royal Family and many Union Jacks. Courtesy of Allisun Dalzel

Allisun Dalzell

Royals superfan based in Beaconsfield, Que.

I’ve been a fan of the royal family from the day Diana Spencer married Prince Charles. I was a little kid who didn’t have a lot – it was the fairy tale that got me. I would spend my babysitting money on every magazine that had pictures of her and Sarah Ferguson, and make scrapbooks. I was devastated when Princess Diana died. I never stopped rooting for her boys.

Over the years, I turned every royal event into a big celebration. For the weddings and the Queen’s funeral, I transformed every room in my house to make it special. I genuinely wanted to do the same for the coronation, but I’m struggling with it.

I want the best for King Charles and his family. I feel like their family problems are overshadowing the good that they do, and it is adding to the disdain for the monarchy. They are incredible proponents of volunteering and charities. It would be brilliant if they hosted events in Canada to thank those who do this work. I don’t know what it would take for them to properly address colonialism in ways that would bring peace, but it would be an important step.

The monarchy needs to show the Commonwealth the value they bring us. But before they can address all of that, before King Charles can charter his new legacy, he has to find a way to bring his family back together.

I was supposed to go to London for the coronation, but it wasn’t sitting right with me. Don’t get me wrong: King Charles has prepared for this role his whole life. Most people don’t realize he is the hardest-working royal and he started advocating for the environment more than 50 years ago.

I will have a small group of friends over to watch the ceremony, and I’ll serve Coronation and Buckingham Palace recipes. We’ll discuss who sat with who and what they wore. I’ll sip on the Queen’s teas and sloe gin, but I’m not throwing a party.

Elizabeth II made 22 official visits to Canada. In 1977, she laughs at a First World War veteran’s joke in Ottawa; in 1982, she signs the patriation of the Constitution alongside Pierre Trudeau; in 2002, she drops the puck before an exhibition game between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. Erik Christensen/The Globe and Mail; Ron Poling/The Canadian Press; Andy Clark/Reuters
Not every tour has been a hit: Her visit to Quebec City in 1964 was memorably raucous. At Laval University on Oct. 9, students staged a noisy but good-humoured protest. The next night, riot police carry a man away during the clashes that came to be known as Truncheon Saturday. Boris Spremo/The Globe and Mail

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Carolyn Harris says it's too soon to know how Canadians' views on monarchy might evolve.Handout

Carolyn Harris

Royals historian based in Toronto

In 2002, polling data indicated that many Canadians supported the monarchy as being an institution that differentiated Canada from the United States. That’s been a view that’s existed for a long time.

Queen Elizabeth II became closely associated with all these different aspects of Canadian society. There are so many iconic moments from her reign, whether it’s waving from the monorail at Expo 67 or dropping the puck at the Vancouver Canucks game in 2002. She lived out much of her adult life as the sovereign, and had this devotion to duty and the public service that was well respected.

Certainly King Charles has also devoted his life to public service, but a great deal of his personal life became known to the public, and so he became a more controversial figure over time. And one of the challenges that King Charles has faced throughout his life is that he’s often been overshadowed by other members of his family.

It remains to be seen in the 21st century how the monarchy will be perceived in Canada. It will depend on whether there are opportunities for members of the Royal Family to be seen in a Canadian context.

Often we see support for the monarchy and for individual members of the royal family increasing when there has been a very successful royal tour.

But if they are able to continue to establish a presence in Canada, connect with Canadians and Canadian institutions, and be patrons of Canadian charities, I think the monarchy will continue to be an enduring institution.

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Robert Finch says he has been a monarchist since his youth.Handout

Robert Finch

Chair of The Monarchist League of Canada based in Dunnville, Ont.

The Monarchist League of Canada was founded to respond to potential anti-monarchist sentiment and to challenge any sort of republican ideas that were starting to crop up in the 1970s, when the emergence of Quebec nationalism started to take a real foothold in Canada.

I’ve considered myself a monarchist even as a kid. I watched cartoons on Saturday mornings, and princes, princesses, kings and queens were everywhere. I thought it was cool to have a real-life queen.

To me, the monarchy represents unity. When the King comes to Canada next, just take a snapshot of that crowd. There’s probably very few people in the world who can bring together a coalition of people who have different political views, come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, have different ethnicities and speak different languages.

If the monarchy is given some TLC, it can be just as vibrant and relevant as it was 100 years ago. We need to have a new portrait of the King. We need to make sure the King’s effigies are on the coin, and it would be nice to have him on the $20 bill.

And very importantly, we need to have a royal tour immediately after the coronation so Canadians can see their new King in person. You cannot have an institution thrive if it’s neglected or hidden. There has to be a concentrated effort of bringing it to the forefront to make sure people are aware it exists and then understand what it means.

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On May 4, the King held a Buckingham Palace meeting with a delegation of Indigenous and federal leaders. From left: RoseAnne Archibald, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations; Governor-General Mary Simon; and presidents Cassidy Caron of the National Métis Council and Natan Obed of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.Gareth Fuller/Pool Photo via AP

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Paulina Johnson says the monarchy needs to be held accountable as part of a healing process for Indigenous people.Handout

Paulina Johnson

Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Alberta based in Edmonton

When the treaty agreements were made, it was a sovereign to the sovereign, who at the time was Queen Victoria. The monarchy is a representation of those treaties and fulfilling that obligation. This is still technically our territory, but everything is a lot more complicated than it initially was.

For us as Indigenous peoples, I think the most important part is that acknowledgement of reaffirming those treaty relationships and commitments to living together. I always think back to King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, and how that’s so vital to Indigenous sovereignty and title and autonomy. But Canada has kept us subdued in our rights, especially with natural resources and extraction.

What does treaty really mean? It’s the creation of a relationship where it made us kinship with settlers: that we would take care of settlers, and then settlers would also take care of us. It’s the ability to live with every component of our world, whether it’s the animal world, the plant world or the unseen.

The monarchy has to acknowledge that they are a part of the deterioration of Indigenous culture and be held accountable for helping to restore that, whether it’s through financial assistance or helping to build a better system that works for Indigenous communities – where Indigenous knowledge takes centre stage. It has to be Indigenous peoples leading that healing.

They also need to apologize, but with actions. For Indigenous communities, it’s all about accountability. It’s one thing to apologize, but it’s another to actually take action and do what’s right.

I think about my people and our language, and we don’t really have a term for the past because we’re aware that everything is connected. So yeah, the treaties were first signed generations ago, but in our worldview, they’re very much present.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and style.

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