A special remembrance service in Sidney’s Beacon Park scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19 — the funeral day of Queen Elizabeth II — will give Saanich Peninsula residents a chance to honour the United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch and Canada’s former head of state. But the pending ceremony also comes amidst questions about the historical legacy and future relevancy of the British monarchy for Canada.
The service, hosted by the Town of Sidney and scheduled for 10:30 a.m., will feature a special proclamation by town crier Kenny Podmore, one of the countless residents still grappling with the Queen’s death on Sept. 8.
“It’s very, very, very, very sad. It has been expected for some time, but now that it has happened, it has really hit home. She has been a most amazing lady. There is nobody like her. There will never be anybody like her again.”
The pending service comes almost two decades to the day after Podmore had delivered a proclamation from the balcony of the Legislative Assembly during Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Victoria in October 2002. He then watched her walk past him in person. “Have I shook the Queen’s hands? No, I haven’t,” he said. “Have I been in her company? Yes, I have.”
After delivering the proclamation, Podmore received an invitation to be in a lineup. Ultimately, Podmore found himself an estimated 10 to 12 feet away from the Queen.
“I was nervous … I knew I wasn’t going to meet her, but you never know. She could have stopped. She didn’t on this occasion, but it was just a lovely feeling to be there about 12 feet away from the Queen of the Commonwealth,” he said. “She was just so elegant.”
Podmore said he remembers that moment whenever he’s near the legislature. “Of course, it will be strange now when I walk past there, but all wonderful, wonderful memories.”
They currently exist with a profound sense of sadness mixed with a recognition of the Queen’s historic accomplishments and questions about the future of the monarchy. Podmore said the Queen’s legacy lies in holding the monarchy together during its turbulent times in the later decades of the 20th century.
Many have considered the Queen as a personified form of social glue within the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth that had emerged out of the former British colonial empire and there are questions about the stability of the United Kingdom and the future of the monarchy with her death.
Looking ahead, Podmore is not sure what will happen to the U.K. “As I keep saying, there is nobody like her but it’s going to be tough,” he said. As for the future of the monarchy, Podmore strikes a pessimistic tone. “The British monarchy will never be the British monarchy that we have known … I really don’t think that they (the current generation) can turn it around. I hope I am wrong.”
Local MP Elizabeth May said Queen Elizabeth II lived what she called an “extraordinary life of duty and service,” which saw her deal with countless unexpected events beyond her control, starting with the abdication of her uncle, which made her beloved father king, only then to follow him at the mere age of 25. “As a human being, there are few people who are as admirable as our late Queen. She was extraordinary.”
As the longest-reigning British monarch with nearly 71 years of service, Queen Elizabeth was a constant global presence. “I’m sure her death is touching millions of people around the world, who feel they have lost a family member,” said May.
While May never met the Queen, she met now King Charles III in October 1991, during a royal visit to Canada. “I had a couple of really good, long conversations with now our King Charles III,” she said, adding later that she hopes he will be able to raise some of the environmental issues within the confines of his constitutional constraints.
He also happens to be Canada’s new head of state and May favours retaining the place of the British monarchy in Canada’s constitutional order. “One reason, we don’t go nuts about prime ministers and their families in this country, is that we have the royal family,” she said. It is a lot more dangerous for democracies to turn elected officials into royals, than having royals, who do not get to run things but exist for reasons of pomp and circumstance, she said.
Local MLA Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, said it was remarkable for Queen Elizabeth II to have served in her role for such a long time. “As we are reflecting on and hearing the stories of people’s interactions, she has left quite a mark on people.”
This said, the week since the Queen’s death has also seen a lot of conversations about the role of the monarchy in Canada. “It’s a complex time in the sense that we are mourning somebody’s passing,” he said. “But … we have a responsibility to be asking questions as well in terms of does this (system) reflect where we want to be and where we want to go? Countries throughout the Commonwealth are having similar conversations and it is not out of disrespect. We have been tied to this institution for hundreds of years and I think when the power and authority moves from one individual to another and they are not an elected person, in a democracy, we have a responsibility to have that discussion.”
When asked whether Canada should keep a foreign monarch as a head of state, Olsen said the conversation goes beyond that question. “It is necessary to answer the question, ‘if not that (the monarchy), then what? Who is the head of the state?’ I’m not going to give you a direct answer, because I haven’t myself determined who that head of state is – if it is not what it is right now.”
When asked about the Queen’s impact on First Nations in Canada, Olsen said the Crown — used in a general sense — has extracted a lot of wealth from Canada. The Crown — like Pope Francis II during his recent visit — has failed to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery, added Olsen. “We have not seen, in my opinion, the extent to which the British monarchy needs to take responsibility for the power that they have exerted, the Doctrine of Discovery they have benefited from, the extraction of resources and wealth from Indigenous land and territories, that have left many communities disconnected from their lands and territories without that wealth.”
While the Queen might have been genuinely interested in Canada’s Indigenous people, the new monarch has a responsibility to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery and begin the process of reconciliation, said Olsen.
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