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Royal Visit to Canada Rife With Symbolism, But Little Substance


Prince Charles, who will most likely become Canada’s king, despite many polls indicating that few Canadians like the idea of him as head of state, made a speedy tour across much of the country with Camilla, his wife, this week. They arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, dropped by Ottawa and finally moved onto Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, as well as the Yellowknives Cree First Nation community in Dettah, before flying home.

As they arrived, I wrote about Canadians’ antipathy toward Charles succeeding Queen Elizabeth, his mother, on the throne, as well as about the constitutional and political difficulties surrounding any effort to change the country’s head of state.

Among the people I spoke with was Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor at Carleton University and an expert on the role of the monarchy in Canada. He has some interesting proposals about how the country might reconcile disagreements between monarchists and those who support having a Canadian head of state without revising the constitution.

The first time I reported on a royal tour was in July 1981, when I was a student reporter at The Globe and Mail. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret traveled around to various places in Ontario for reasons I have long forgotten.

Much of the time, royal tours are mostly about photographs and video of the visitors shaking hands, and then shaking more hands. There’s often relatively little for reporters to write about: Members of the royal family rarely give speeches during their visits, usually one at the most. Charles did, in fact, speak to an enthusiastic crowd in Yellowknife shortly before departing on Thursday, about the need to combat climate change and to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Reporters are usually kept at a distance at these events, making eavesdropping on the royal visitors’ conversations with Canadians impossible. Follow-up conversations with the people whom they meet often suggest that the aristocratic visitors mostly ask general questions, nod and listen.

Interviews with the royals, of course, are out of the question. During the 1981 trip by Margaret and the Queen Mother, there was an off-the-record cocktail reception with them and the reporters covering the tour. Warren Barton, The Globe’s metro editor at the time, rightly believed that, as stand-ins for readers, reporters shouldn’t hobnob with aristocrats if they can’t tell their readers about it. So, I was ordered to stand outside the hotel reception room in silent protest.

But no one balked when I was required to rent a tuxedo to attend an arts gala that Margaret opened.

For this most recent trip, I didn’t bring a suit, let alone a tuxedo. But the trip did pose some of the same logistical challenges of my first tour, when some scheduling confusion left me stranded overnight in Timmins, Ontario. Because of my student finances at the time, I had neither a credit card nor the cash for a hotel room. This week, only the British news media covering Charles and Camilla and a few news agency photographers could book seats on a Royal Canadian Air Force Airbus that tagged along behind the jet carrying the royal couple. Matching the planes’ movements on commercial flights was an impossibility, so I just traveled directly to Yellowknife.

This was the second time since 2009 that I’ve followed Charles around for The Times. I also reported on Prince William, Charles’s son, and Kate, the duchess of Cambridge, on their first international visit, in 2011. And Dan Bilefsky and I wrote extensively about Prince Harry and Meghan, his wife, during their temporary move to British Columbia. In 2016, the very first edition of this newsletter mentioned another visit by William and Kate to Canada.

But I’ve never been assigned to cover the first royal visitor I saw. And with Queen Elizabeth’s health at 96 years old increasingly becoming a cause for concern, it’s unlikely I’ll have another opportunity to do so.

This week’s Trans Canada section was compiled by Vjosa Isai, a Canada news assistant at The New York Times.

  • Bruce Mau, a celebrated graphic designer, said in an interview with The Times: “I didn’t even know the word design, but the moment that you have a particular outcome in mind, you become a designer. Systematically executing an outcome is design.” His life, including the domestic violence he experienced at his childhood home in Sudbury, Ontario, and the start of his journey in the world of design in Toronto, are explored in the new documentary film “Mau.”

  • The Cannes Film Festival is on for another week, and it will have the Canadian director David Cronenberg competing for the Palme d’Or with his first film in eight years. Called “Crimes of the Future,” the movie will screen on May 23.

  • For the Vancouver-born actress Sarah Goldberg, the leap from theater to television was daunting. But Goldberg, 36, found her footing, landing an Emmy nomination and creating a buzz around her starring role on the HBO dark comedy “Barry.”

  • Public health agencies around the world are reporting cases of monkeypox, including several in Montreal.

  • The Maple Leafs ended their N.H.L. playoff run, but the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are meeting in round two for the first time since 1991, the last Battle of Alberta.

  • The chef Matty Matheson has opened a new restaurant in Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West neighborhood. The setting, a kind of airy wood cathedral, signals Mr. Matheson’s level-up from the persona he developed in his cooking videos. “I’m 40 now, and Prime Seafood Palace is a very mature, beautiful, thoughtful restaurant,” Mr. Matheson said in an interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

  • In Opinion, the writer Jane Coaston reflects on whether it is necessary to overcome fear and anxiety. She spoke to Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Toronto Metropolitan University and the co-author of “The Anti-Anxiety Program.”

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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