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Georgina Abela, 90, right, and her daughter Nellemarie Hyde, are flying to London where Georgina will take in her second coronation when King Charles is coronated on May 6.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The crowning of King Charles III on Saturday is the first coronation in 70 years for the British monarchy. Even though the ceremony is not legally required, and none of the other European monarchies follow the same ritual, for many people the coronation still has deep meaning, both good and bad.

Georgina Abela, Attending her second coronation

Georgina Abela can still vividly recall watching Queen Elizabeth II wave from the balcony at Buckingham Palace on June 2, 1953, just after her coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Ms. Abela had travelled to London on a whim that day with her friend Mary, taking a 12-hour overnight train from their home in Aberdeen, Scotland. Once they arrived at London’s King’s Cross station, they walked to a spot along the route of the Queen’s procession from the abbey.

Somehow they got to the front of the crowd and joined the cheers as the Queen went by in the ornate Gold Stage Coach. “It was a joyous occasion,” Ms. Abela said from her home in Toronto. “Everybody was laughing and having fun.”

After the coach passed, the women made their way to Buckingham Palace and caught a glimpse of the Queen waving. Then they took the night train back to Aberdeen and arrived just in time to make it to work at an upholstery company.

Ms. Abela and Mary made another trip together a few years later, this time to Canada. They met their future husbands at a dance, and while her friend returned to Scotland, Ms. Abela stayed in Toronto. She married her sweetheart and they raised three children.

Shortly after Queen Elizabeth II died last September, Ms. Abela’s daughter, Nellemarie Hyde, suggested they travel to London for the coronation of King Charles. “My daughter said ‘Mom, you should go,” said Ms. Abela, who is 90 years old.

So they did.

She still laughs at the fun she and Mary had on that day 70 years ago, singing and chatting with people in the crowd. They were both in their 20s, friends for life who shared a moment of history.

Ms. Abela can take or leave the monarchy, but she wishes the best for the new King. “I hope Charles does well. He’s waited a long time for this job.”

Dr. George Gross, Coronation historian at King’s College London

Dr. George Gross has heard all the arguments against the coronation: that it’s outdated, pointless and generates little enthusiasm. But he still sees the relevance of traditions that date back nearly 1,000 years.

He likens the coronation to a marriage. “When the previous monarch dies we have this saying: ‘the King is dead, long live the king.’ There’s no gap. But if you see that as the engagement, and then you see the follow-up service as the marriage, I think it starts to make more sense as the formalization of that,” he said.

The oaths the King swears – to uphold law, justice and mercy – are also equally relevant. Just look at Ukraine, he says, where people are fighting and dying to win back the rule of law. “I think to have the monarch, at the apex of the constitutional pyramid in Britain, swear to uphold those values is very important, even now.”

He knows there are those who question the Christian nature of the coronation service and the fact that the King is head of the Church of England. But that’s also part of the tradition and not something easily discarded, he adds.

Dr. Gross points out that King Charles has modernized much of the ceremony and included representatives of other religions such as Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus. The King has also referred to himself as “defender of faith” instead of “defender of the faith.”

“Obviously, the service has got to reflect more of where we are in 2023,” Dr. Gross says. “But at the heart of it, of course, there’s still an established church here and he’s still the supreme governor.”

Graham Smith, Anti-monarchist crusader

He has spent 20 years campaigning to rid Britain of the monarchy – and for most of that time it has been a lonely quest. In 2003, Graham Smith started as a volunteer with the campaign group Republic; two year later, he became its only staff member.

Arguing against the monarchy was difficult while Queen Elizabeth II was on the throne, given her popularity and longevity. That all changed last September when she died.

“This has definitely become a lot easier,” he says of his advocacy work. The Royal Family “has lost their star player.”

He takes comfort in polls that show support for the monarchy has fallen to roughly 60 per cent today from around 75 per cent five years ago. Surveys have also found that a growing number of young people have no interest in the royals. Throw in discussions about colonialism and the slave trade, and he says the time is ripe for serious talk about replacing the monarchy with an elected head of state.

“We are not a country of royalists, we are a country that is largely indifferent but is coming around to looking more critically at this issue.”

Republic’s supporter base has swollen to 130,000, he says, and donations topped £286,000 ($487,000) in 2022, almost three times higher than previous years. And Mr. Smith is now one of seven employees.

When asked whether he will live long enough to see the end of the monarchy, Mr. Smith, 48, didn’t hesitate. “Yes absolutely. It has to happen in someone’s lifetime, so why not mine?”

Brian Macdonald, Former solider and politician

Like a lot of people from Atlantic Canada, Brian Macdonald grew up in a staunchly royalist household where his mother prominently displayed a needlepoint of the poem The Gate of The Year that King George VI recited at the start of the Second World War.

Mr. Macdonald was raised in Halifax and got a job in high school performing military re-enactments at the Citadel, the historic British fort that overlooks the city. From there he studied at the Royal Military Academy in Kingston, then went on to a 15-year career in both the Canadian and British armies, serving in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. “So you can see that I’m an anglophile,” he says with a laugh.

People in the military have a special bond with the monarchy because the king or queen is commander and chief of the armed forces, he adds. “There’s really one degree of separation from the Crown to members of the armed services.”

Mr. Macdonald also served as an MLA in the New Brunswick legislature from 2010 to 2018. Symbols of the crown were everywhere in government, and swearing an oath to the monarch was commonplace.

His attachment to the Crown goes beyond emotion and tradition, however. He’s convinced that the King plays an important role in Canada’s Constitution as head of state.

“It means there’s some entity that’s outside the elected office, who provides for some level of accountability. In Canada, we effectively have an elected dictatorship, where power is fairly supreme in the Prime Minister’s Office. And so it’s nice to have something that balances that.”

Perry Bellegarde, Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

Growing up on the Little Black Bear First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, Perry Bellegarde became familiar with the British flag and the monarchy at an early age.

Every year on “treaty day” he and other band members received $5 cash, their payment under treaty obligations signed with the Crown more than a century ago. “We still have songs, we still have ceremonies, we still see the Union Jack flown on treaty day,” he said.

The relationship with Britain runs deep for all First Nation people, he added. “We were allies with the British crown as Indigenous peoples. We fought in the War of 1812. Canada could have been part of the USA if it wasn’t for First Nations people becoming allies.”

Mr. Bellegarde served as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and he is now an adviser on the King’s Sustainable Markets Initiative, which aims to encourage the private sector to transition to sustainability.

He was invited to Sunday’s coronation concert by the King, whom he has come to respect because of the monarch’s commitment to the environment. “His Royal Highness has accepted and endorsed, and really embraces the Indigenous world view,” Mr. Bellegarde said. “He gets sustainable development, and the need for a sustainable future for all of us.”

Mr. Bellegarde does not shy away issues such as colonialism, residential schools and the role of the Crown in Canada’s history. “Colonialism is there and that’s something he inherits on becoming King,” he said.

Charles has made some strong statements on the issues and Mr. Bellegarde says the King will be an important advocate. “The monarchy and the King can be a strong ally for us in terms of elevating issues towards the word leader stage. I would say, give this strong leader, this very committed and dedicated leader, a chance to show what he’s really about and what he stands for.”

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