Skip to main content
explainer

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall came at a precarious time for the Royal Family as they bring messages of Indigenous reconciliation and climate action. Here’s what you need to know

Prince Charles greets people at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife on May 19.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Their visit was planned to be a celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, but after three days of reflection on Canada’s past and ongoing wrongs against Indigenous people, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, said they would leave with “heavy hearts.”

At their last stop in Yellowknife, the prince scrapped his prepared remarks to say he acknowledges the suffering of residential-school survivors, adding that the royal couple would be “closely following the next chapter in this great country’s history.”

Here’s a recap of what they saw and did in St. John’s, Ottawa and the Northwest Territories.


Charles and Camilla’s three days in Canada

Charles reacts to a bad pour of beer he made at the Quidi Vidi Brewery in St. John's.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Day 1: St. John’s, May 17

Dignitaries, schoolchildren and a brass band playing Great Big Sea’s Ordinary Day turned out to greet the royal couple at the Confederation Building in St. John’s on Tuesday, where the Prime Minister and Governor-General welcomed them. In a bilingual speech, the Prince acknowledged he had come at an important moment for Indigenous reconciliation:

We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better. It is a process that starts with listening. My wife and I look forward to listening to you, and learning.

At Government House, residence of Lieutenant-Governor Judy Foote, the couple took part in a smudging ceremony that inaugurated the Heart Garden, a memorial to honour victims of residential schools. The Prince got a memoir from Elisabeth Penashue, a 78-year-old elder from Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation in Labrador, who said it was “really important they hear our stories.”

The royal couple and Prime Minister bow in front of Elizabeth Penashue as she says a blessing at Government House.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Also at Government House were representatives of Campaign for Wool Canada, a group launched on a previous visit by Charles in 2014. They gave him wool busts of himself and of his mother and demonstrated some of their efforts to support domestic wool industries.

Charles is introduced to Rosemarie Péloquin, a Franco-Manitoban artist who shows her needle-felted Canadian wool sculptures.Chris Jackson/Getty Images


Day 2: Ottawa, May 18

The royal couple’s day began at Rideau Hall, where Charles was made an Extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit, an order marking its 50th anniversary this year. Charles and Camilla went to the National War Memorial and laid a wreath at the Cenotaph.

At the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, a small crowd with Canadian, British and Ukrainian flags (and a few anti-monarchy signs) gathered outside as the couple took part in a prayer service and met Ukraine’s incoming ambassador to Canada, a family displaced by the Russian invasion and groups helping with the settlement of Ukrainian refugees.

The royal couple meet members of the Ukrainian community at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

The couple are shown Beaver Tail pastries on their visit to the ByWard Market. Carlos Osorio/Reuters
A student at Assumption Elementary school reacts as Camilla speaks with her classmates. Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Officers perform for the couple at an RCMP Musical Ride event.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

After the prince’s bilateral meeting with Mr. Trudeau, the two took part in a roundtable on sustainable finance where Charles stressed the need for the public and private sectors to work together on climate and biodiversity:

I’ve been trying to bring people from around the world together on sustainability for something dreadful like 40 years now. Now after endless procrastination, time is running out. So with trillions of dollars in assets, the private sector and private finance hold the ultimate key, I believe, to our success.

In the evening, Charles and Camilla returned to Rideau Hall for a reception where RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, asked them for formal apologies from the Queen for “the Crown’s ongoing failure to fulfill its treaty agreements,” and for the role of the Church of England (which she leads) in residential schools. Charles has not publicly commented on the request, though Ms. Archibald tweeted that it was “heartening to hear Prince Charles acknowledge that the honour of the Crown is not always upheld.”


Day 3: Yellowknife, May 19

Charles joins a drum dance in Dettah, NWT, on May 19.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Charles has visited the Arctic several times: On his debut Canadian tour in 1970, he took part in the first royal visit to Iqaluit with his parents, sister and then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau. He and Camilla have made only one joint trip to the North before this, in 2017, when they were criticized for disrespect after giggling during an Inuit throat-singing contest in Iqaluit. This visit to the Northwest Territories, however, was a much more respectful affair, and by its end the prince said he was “deeply moved” by the experience.

In Dettah, a Dene community of roughly 200 people east of Yellowknife, Charles offered tobacco to a ceremonial fire and joined in a drum circle. Many people came in orange T-shirts and ribbons to honour residential-school survivors. Charles met with brothers Eddie and Fred Sangris, Chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Ndilo Chief for the Yellowknives First Nation, respectively. Fred Sangris said it was a far-ranging conversation:

We talked to him about our dreams. About our wishes. About how Canada needs to strengthen its treaty relationships. He wanted to know more – how we’re living, whether we are comfortable, what issues we are facing.

Charles watches a demonstration with Chief Edward Sangris.Jacob King/Pool/Getty Images

The events on the shore of Great Slave Lake also highlighted the ways that climate change has hampered the Dettah Ice Road, the isolated communities’ main route to Yellowknife in the winter. Climate experts explained how the ice-road season is getting shorter as temperatures rise. Dene community members spoke with the prince about how their cultures care for the land, and he spoke afterward about the need to continue this work:

We simply must learn practical lessons from traditional knowledge, through deep connections to land and water, about how we should treat our planet. And, above all, recognize the vital importance of taking into account the seventh unborn generation.

At the Dettah Ice Road, Charles learns from local experts about the impact of climate change.Jacob King/Pool/Getty Images

At Yellowknife’s Ceremonial Circle, a crowd of several hundred came to see the couple as Charles said he was deeply moved by his meetings with residential-school survivors: “I want to acknowledge their suffering and to say how much our hearts go out to them and their families,” he said, though didn’t address the calls he had received in Ottawa for a royal apology. Then, with a mahsee cho – thank you, in the Gwich’in language – he and Camilla said goodbye.

Charles waves as he and Camilla board their plane to leave Yellowknife.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Backstory on the royal visit

Platinum Jubilee memorabilia is set up in a shop in London.Tom Nicholson/Reuters

Platinum Jubilee

This February, the 96-year-old Queen reached 70 years on the throne, and public institutions in Britain, Canada and other Commonwealth realms are pulling out all the stops to celebrate. May is a propitious month for the royal visit: Victoria Day, May 23, is the sovereign’s official birthday in Canada, which Britons observe on June 11 this year. (Countries where the monarch is head of state celebrate their birthdays on legislated dates so the statutory holidays are consistent, no matter who reigns. The Queen’s actual date of birth is April 21, 1926.)

The celebrations will cap a rocky year for the Queen’s physical and emotional health. It was the first anniversary of the death of her husband, Prince Philip, whose memorial service in March was the Queen’s first public appearance in months. She contracted COVID-19 in February, was hospitalized a few months earlier for medical tests and cited “episodic mobility problems” when she skipped May 10′s state opening of the British Parliament, where Charles spoke in her place.

William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, attend a parade for military trainees in Kingston, Jamaica, on March 24.Chris Jackson/Getty Images

William and Catherine’s Caribbean tour

The Canadian visit was announced weeks after a Platinum Jubilee tour of the Caribbean by Charles’s eldest son, William, and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Through eight days in Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, the Cambridges were met by protests demanding British reparations for slavery and criticism of how they re-enacted elements of the Queen’s royal tours of the 1950s and 1960s, when Caribbean nations were barely or not yet independent.

In Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told them the country intends to sever its connection to the Crown as Barbados did late last year. Later, in the Bahamas, William said the monarchy would respect any country’s decision about its future: “relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”

The Queen and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, attend a service of thanksgiving for the late Prince Philip on March 29.RICHARD POHLE/AFP via Getty Images

The Prince Andrew affair

Active members of the Royal Family have been busy with Platinum Jubilee events this spring, but one person you won’t see with them is Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second-eldest son.

In February he settled a lawsuit with Virginia Giuffre, an American who said he had sexual abused her when she was a teenager. She said they were introduced in 2001 by Jeffrey Epstein, a sex offender who died by suicide in 2019 awaiting trial on trafficking charges. Andrew backed away from public royal duties soon after Mr. Epstein’s death, and many Canadian groups removed him as their patron. This past January the Queen took further steps to strip Andrew of military affiliations, royal patronages and the title “His Royal Highness.”

Monarchy’s past and future: More from The Globe and Mail

The Decibel

Why was 2021 the moment Barbados chose to declare itself a republic? Kareem Smith, a reporter for the online publication Barbados Today, spoke with The Decibel about how a younger generation made it happen. Subscribe for more episodes.


Opinion

Ralph Heintzman: What we ignore, when we talk about abolishing the monarchy

Kris Manjapra: For the royals, slavery is a family affair. They need to show remorse, not sorrow, for their role in its history

Alex Renton: Racism was a cornerstone of the British Empire, including Canada. Reparative justice can help to right these wrongs

Andrew Coyne: Better a hereditary head of state than any other kind


Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Greg Mercer, Kristy Kirkup, Marieke Walsh, Joy SpearChief-Morris, Nancy Macdonald, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles