Royalty have been touring Canada since the late 18th century, visiting every province and territory and meeting with Canadians from all walks of life. Here are 10 of the most memorable royal tours of Canada.
1792: Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn
King George III’s fourth son, Prince Edward, lived in Quebec City from 1791 to 1793. In the summer of 1792, he travelled from Quebec to Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), where he stayed with John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. During his tour of Lower and Upper Canada, Prince Edward visited newly founded Loyalist settlements in Cornwall and Kingston and met with First Nations delegations. As a military officer, he was primarily concerned with British North America’s defences. Edward proudly wrote to his father that he had “[v]isited almost every post occupied by even the smallest detachment of your troops throughout all Canada.” Prince Edward gave his name to Prince Edward Island and later became the father of Queen Victoria.
1860: The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII)
In 1859, the Province of Canada invited Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, to visit “to witness the progress and prosperity of this distant part of your dominions” and open the Victoria Bridge in Montreal. Queen Victoria declined the invitation, but she sent her 18-year-old eldest son, the future King Edward VII, in 1860. The royal tour was the first time that a Prince of Wales had visited Canada. The young prince had not excelled at his studies, but his sociability contributed to the success of the tour. During his time in Canada, he attended balls and military reviews, became the first member of the royal family to travel by train in Canada (from Toronto to Collingwood) and opened landmarks, from the Victoria Bridge to Toronto’s Queen’s Park.
1901: The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (the future King George V and Queen Mary)
Just a few months after King Edward VII succeeded Queen Victoria in 1901, his own son and daughter-in-law, the future King George V and Queen Mary, undertook a world tour of the British Empire, opening Australia’s first parliament and spending a month travelling across Canada by train. The tour was an opportunity to showcase the recently constructed Canadian Pacific Railway. George attended military reviews and thanked Canadians for their contributions to the Boer War, while Mary toured hospitals and met with women’s organizations and charities. George returned to Canada in 1908 for the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.
1919: The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII)
During the First World War, the future King Edward VIII was a staff officer to the commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force. In this military capacity, he met with the Canadian Corps and celebrated the signing of the armistice with them in 1918. In 1919, he toured Canada to thank Canadians for their contributions to the war effort. Edward enjoyed his time in Canada so much that he purchased a ranch in Alberta. Edward VIII succeeded to the throne in 1936, abdicated that same year to marry American Wallis Simpson and was succeeded by his younger brother, King George VI.
1939: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
King George VI was the first reigning monarch to tour Canada. His six-week tour with his consort, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), was one of the most popular royal tours in Canadian history. The tour featured one of the first royal walkabouts as the king and queen joined a crowd of Canadian First World War veterans at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Although preparations for the tour were underway from George VI’s accession to the throne in 1936, the impending outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 gave the tour even greater political significance.
1959: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
The future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip first visited Canada in 1951, representing King George VI. The Queen succeeded her father as sovereign in 1952 and returned to Canada in 1957, becoming the first reigning monarch to open Parliament in Canada. In 1959, the Queen and Prince Philip undertook their longest tour of Canada, travelling by train, plane and royal yacht to visit all 10 provinces and both territories. During the tour, the Queen found out she was expecting her third child, and Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was one of the first to learn the news of the Queen’s expanding family.
1976: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and their four children
The 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal was one of the rare occasions where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip travelled outside the United Kingdom with all four of their children (Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward). The Queen opened the Olympic Games as Canada’s Head of State, while her daughter, Princess Anne, competed in the equestrian events as part of the British team. The visit was both a public engagement and a family occasion. The press and public enjoyed how the royal family chatted and joked with one another as they attended the games and cheered for Princess Anne.
1983: Prince Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales
The wedding of Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 attracted worldwide interest. The Prince and Princess of Wales’s first tour of Canada in 1983 was one of the most anticipated royal tours of the late 20th century. Although Charles made the official speeches on the tour, there was intense public interest in Diana’s informal conversations with Canadians during royal walkabouts and her rapport with children. Crowds would call out, “We Want Di!” Diana celebrated her 22nd birthday on 1 July 1983. At the opening ceremony of the World University Games in Edmonton, Charles stated, “It is the birthday of my dear wife. Not only that, but she had the good sense and the excellent taste to be born on Canada’s national day.”
2011: Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
Queen Elizabeth II last visited Canada in 2010, celebrating Canada Day on Parliament Hill. The following year, her grandson and second-in-line to the throne, Prince William, married Catherine Middleton. The new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge travelled to Canada in the summer of 2011 for their first overseas tour as a married couple. The tour revived interest in the monarchy for a younger generation and included spontaneous moments, such as William playing road hockey in Yellowknife and Catherine hugging six-year-old cancer patient Diamond Marshall, who gave her flowers in Calgary. William and Catherine were the first members of the royal family to attend a citizenship ceremony, meeting with new Canadians at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.
2017: Prince Charles and Camilla, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall
Over the past decade, the Queen’s children and grandchildren have represented her on overseas tours. Charles and Camilla have represented the Queen in Canada for key moments, including the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014 and the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017. Charles delivered a bilingual speech on Parliament Hill during the Canada Day festivities in 2017, stating, “We should be clear and proud that we are celebrating a country that others look to for example.”