With Victoria Day (celebrated in Canada on the Monday closest to May 24, the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth) and a royal visit for the Platinum Jubilee wrapped up, the question of the monarchy in Canada is becoming increasingly prominent. Canada, with Victoria and Elizabeth II, has had a queen as sovereign for 104 years of its 155-year existence. These queens’ relationships with Canada differed greatly, and Canadians’ view of them has also changed substantially throughout the decades.
Queen Victoria was sovereign in 1867 when Canadian Confederation took place. Although she technically was Queen of Canada, she did not hold that specific title- Canada was a dominion and operated under British foreign policy. It was not until the Statute of Westminster came into effect in 1931 that Canada became an entirely independent nation, and thus the title of “Sovereign of Canada” came into existence.
While Victoria never visited Canada, she was invited to visit the then-Province of Canada in 1859, but instead sent her son. The future King Edward VII spent two months touring Canada in 1860, and Victoria’s daughter served as the vice-regal consort from 1878 to 1883 when her husband, The Marquess of Lorne, was appointed Governor General of Canada.
Despite never having been to Canada, Victoria continued to nurture the relationship between Canada and the Crown. Every province and territory has a wide array of streets, hospitals, parks, boulevards, rivers, mountains, and more named after Victoria and her family. Treaties with Indigenous groups were signed by the Crown, not the government, creating a lasting – though complex and sometimes confrontational – relationship between the two groups that persists to this day. As Andrew Heard explained in “The Crown in Canada: Is There a Canadian Monarchy?”, “[t]he feelings that Canadians held toward the monarchy in general and Queen Victoria…. were those of British subjects belonging to a British Empire that spanned the globe… and would have been a mix of positive attachment, particularly among settlers or British origins, and possible resentment to a ‘foreign’ monarch”.
After Victoria’s son, grandson, and two great-grandsons each held the throne, Canada once again had a Queen in February 1952. However, Canada was a very different country in 1952 than it had been on Victoria’s death in 1901.
Canada was the first of the Commonwealth realms to proclaim Elizabeth’s accession on 6 February 1952, with the other realms following over the next five days. Her father was King of Canada, but she was the first monarch to be proclaimed as “Queen of Canada”. She has been the longest serving monarch of Canada, and the majority of Canadians do not remember a time when she was not sovereign.
Canada’s distinct relationship with the Crown under Elizabeth II’s reign can be seen as early as her coronation. Canadian Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent explained why Canadians would not be participating in the coronation:
In my view the Coronation is the official enthronement of the Sovereign as Sovereign of the U.K. and the position of other members of the Commonwealth is that they recognize as their Sovereign the person who is the rightful sovereign of the U.K. We are happy to attend and witness the Coronation of the Sovereign of the U.K. but we are not direct participants in that function.
Elizabeth did acknowledge her role as sovereign of Canada, as well as her other fifteen realms and territories at the time. The Norman Hartnell-designed gown she wore for the coronation included green and gold embroidered maple leaves to represent Canada. Her proclamation, “By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Canada and her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith” also highlighted the importance of her role as Queen of Canada, as the only other explicitly named nation.
While the Queen is theoretically acting as Queen of Canada at any given moment, it can be difficult to identify when she is specifically serving in that role instead of her broader role as Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth. One obvious example is when she visits Canada, but her last visit was in 2010 and all subsequent visits have understandably been carried out by other senior royals.
Although it is infrequent, Queen Elizabeth has visited the United States in her role as Queen of Canada; she visited as Queen of Canada in October 1957, June 1959, July 1959, and July 2010. She has also visited France as Queen of Canada in June 1994 and April 2007, representing Canada at WWI and WWII memorials. Aside from these specific and noted occasions, it can be more difficult to discern what her role as Queen of Canada tangibly entails.
In Canada, the monarch holds a non-partisan political role. The Queen is represented by the Governor General, and in the provinces by Lieutenant Governors General who give royal assent to legislation. (The territories do not have a Lieutenant Governor General, but rather each has a Commissioner who stands in for the federal government, not the Crown.) In a constitutional monarchy, the Crown- through the Governor General in Canada- provides a stable, non-partisan presence.
Though much of the monarchy’s function in the United Kingdom over the last century has been to be seen- with public engagements making up the bulk of the royal “workload” – in Canada, they are rarely seen in-person. There have been fewer and fewer official Canadian royal visits, and those that are planned are becoming shorter and shorter, creating further difficulty in determining what the current role of Queen of Canada is and what the monarchy’s place is. (Many members of the royal family continue to make personal and private visits to Canada, including the late Duke of Edinburgh, who made over 50 solo trips to Canada.)
In the twenty-first century, knowledge of the Crown in Canada in the general public is limited. People still casually refer to the Queen as “the Queen of England” rather than “the Queen of Canada”, and the role of the Canadian monarchy is only discussed widely when it is legally questioned, i.e., during the 2008 prorogation of Parliament. There is a fondness for Elizabeth II when she is discussed or a royal event is on the horizon, but that does not extend to the wider family on the whole.
Like most countries in the Commonwealth, many Canadians have a connection to Queen Elizabeth II as a person but their connection to the monarchy holistically is fading quickly. Although the role of Queen of Canada has evolved drastically since 1867, both Victoria and Elizabeth II have left their mark on Canada. With more and more Canadians asking whether or not the monarchy has a place in twenty-first century Canada, it remains to be seen whether or not Canadians will accept a King of Canada in the future.
Recommended Reading and Bibliography
Coates, Colin M. Majesty in Canada Essays on the Role of Royalty ; Essays Presented at the Annual Conference of the University of Edinburgh, Centre of Canadian Studies. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2006.
Jackson, D. Michael. The Canadian Kingdom: 150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy. Toronto: Dundurn, 2018.
Jackson, D. Michael, and Philippe Lagassé. Canada and the Crown: Essays in Constitutional Monarchy. Montréal, CA: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014.
Jackson, D. Michael. Royal Progress: Canada’s Monarchy in the Age of Disruption. Toronto: Dundurn, 2020.
Romaniuk, Scott Nicholas, and Joshua K Wasylciw. “Canada’s Evolving Crown: From a British Crown to a ‘Crown of Maples.’” American, British, and Canadian studies 23, no. 1 (2014): 108–125.
 Messamore, Barbara J. “George VI’s 1939 Royal Tour of Canada: Context and the Constitution.” Royal Studies Journal 5, no 1 (2018), 126–146.
 D. Michael Jackson and Andrew Heard, “The Crown in Canada: Is There a Canadian Monarchy?,” in The Canadian Kingdom: 150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy (Toronto: Dundurn, 2018).
 Peter Trepanier, “A Not Unwilling Subject: Canada and Her Queen,” in Majesty in Canada Essays on the Role of Royalty ; Essays Presented at the Annual Conference of the University of Edinburgh, Centre of Canadian Studies (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2006).
 Canadian Heritage, “The 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of Her Majesty The Queen,” Canada.ca (/ Gouvernement du Canada, February 14, 2022), https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/royal-family/queen/jubilees-coronation/60th-anniversary.html.