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The flag on the Peace Tower flies at half-mast behind banners of Queen Elizabeth celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, in Ottawa, on Sept. 8.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Queen Elizabeth has died, and with her a link to the past, and the fairy dust in Canada’s constitutional monarchy. For this country, her tenure knitted the time of a colony emerging from war to the uncertain world of nations in 2022, with what seemed like predictable stability. Already we can see no monarch will reign like her again.

There aren’t many Canadians who can remember her 1951 visit to Canada as Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of a wartime king who herself trained as a truck mechanic in the Second World War. She had been here, and on the throne, before most Canadians were born. Her likeness stretched back into silvery memories. There’s hardly any other conception of a queen.

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It’s too soon, of course, to know what succession means for the future of the monarchy in Canada, but it seems hard to conceive now of any other royal ever receiving the same assumed deference, even veneration. The Queen’s constancy over history provided some quiet magic of the kind that makes a monarch’s valuable constitutional role, the idea that there is a rightful, beyond-questioning arbiter, easier.

In a country like Canada, where support for the monarchy is divided, according to polls, it was always remarkable how often republicans who argued against the monarchy would insert the quick caveat that they had nothing against the Queen.

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Certainly, it might be harder now to see the monarchy as a stable connection to Canada’s past when it was the Queen who personified it, at least for many, particularly outside Quebec. She was Queen of an empire when she began her reign in 1952, underestimated as a woman who came to the throne unexpectedly young, and passed away not only as Queen of the United Kingdom, but as the constitutionally enshrined Queen of Canada.

  • A notice announcing the death of Queen Elizabeth is placed on th railings outside of Buckingham Palace in London.DANIEL LEAL/AFP/Getty Images

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“In the early 1950s, if you walked around English Canada and said, who are you, what’s your identity, people would have said, ‘I’m British,’ ” said Randall Hansen, a political science professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “The Queen was fundamental to that.”

Her reign endured through radical changes, he noted, including Britain’s loss of empire, decolonization, and Canada’s political and cultural shift away from Britain and, in a sense, toward the United States and multiculturalism. There was social change. The Dominion of Canada became a G7 country. “She was our Queen for almost half of Canada’s existence,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his tribute, pointing out he was her 12th Canadian prime minister.

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Pierre Trudeau famously performed a pirouette behind her in 1977 in a symbol of irreverence, but more crucially, the Queen came to Canada in 1982 to sit beside him on a windy April day and sign the repatriated Constitution.

Brian Mulroney, who as a Laval University law student protested the cost of the Queen’s visit to Quebec City, later wrote in his memoirs that “Her Majesty proved to be one of the wisest persons I was destined to meet in public life.” He praised her role in the postempire Commonwealth.

Jean Chrétien, who as minister of Indian and Northern Affairs accompanied her on a trip across Canada’s North in 1970, where he was handed a microphone by a performer struck by stage fright to sing the national anthem, in French, because he did not know the English words. He became an enthusiastic monarchist and took delight in recounting how she once greeted him at Buckingham Palace: “You again!”

The Crown, of course, didn’t sit flawlessly on her head for 70 years. There were faltering, forced steps into the modern world of television cameras. There was the stiff, haughty failure to lower flags and publicly grieve for Diana, Princess of Wales, on her death in 1997. The Royal Family acted like an anachronism, but the Queen herself remained more popular.

Part of that was constancy, and forbearance. In 70 years of change, colonial independence, repatriating constitutions and politicians jockeying for power, she was rarely drawn in, or seen to be drawn in. Yet, to Canadians, at least there was still the sense that the Queen personified the legitimacy in say, a governor-general refusing a prime minister’s unconstitutional demand. A politician might try to question a viceroy’s legitimacy – but not if the Queen was behind them.

That’s constitutional monarchy. But for Canadians, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth and her links to this country’s past, some part of its magic will be lost.

From the archives: Watch Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953

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