Queen Elizabeth II, who succeeded to the throne in 1952, is the longest reigning monarch in British and modern Canadian history. She celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (60 years on the throne) in 2012. Celebrations to honour the Diamond Jubilee — the second after that of Elizabeth II’s great-great grandmother Queen Victoria in 1897 — included the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, the lighting of Jubilee beacons, a tour of the United Kingdom by the Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and tours of the Commonwealth realms, including a visit to Canada, by the Queen’s children, grandchildren and cousins. (See also Royal Family; Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee — 1897.)
Queen Elizabeth II’s Reign
Elizabeth II succeeded her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952. The reign of George VI saw the evolution of the former British Empire into a Commonwealth of equal nations. The Queen was therefore the first monarch to be crowned Queen of Canada. Between 1952 and 2012, the Queen toured Canada 22 times and was present for key events in Canada’s history such as the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, Expo 67 and the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. The Queen has reigned during a period of unprecedented social, political and technological change. The Queen’s decision to allow her coronation to be televised in 1953 allowed audiences around the world to share in the ceremony, and royal tours, events and philanthropy are now publicized through social media.
The Queen attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth, Australia, in 2011. There, the Commonwealth Heads of Government, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, discussed plans for Commonwealth-wide celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee. In contrast to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, when representatives of the British Empire gathered in London to celebrate the monarch, the plans for the 2012 Jubilee included members of the royal family travelling to the Commonwealth realms to celebrate the occasion around the world.
In Canada, a 14-member Diamond Jubilee Council was formed in 2009 to oversee the celebrations. In 2011, the federal government allocated a $7.5-million budget for the Diamond Jubilee, an amount that included $2 million for events in honour of the occasion and $3.7 million for Diamond Jubilee medals for 60,000 Canadians.
Diamond Jubilee Medals
Sixty thousand Canadians received Diamond Jubilee medals to honour their contributions to Canada and achievements in their communities. The Government of Canada invited dozens of governmental and non-governmental Canadians to nominate candidates for the awards. Recipients included Olympic athletes, philanthropists, community volunteers and members of the armed forces. The medal’s design is a crowned image of Elizabeth II with the opposite side showing the royal cypher inside a diamond motif. The blue, red and white colours of the medal’s ribbon mirrored the colour scheme of the 1953 coronation medal, the 1977 Silver Jubilee medal and the 2002 Golden Jubilee medal.
There was controversy concerning the awards because all Members of Parliament and senators were automatically eligible for the award, including two senators who were facing RCMP investigations regarding their expenses. Other Diamond Jubilee medal recipients who attracted criticism included sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his Olympic gold medal for use of steroids, and singer Justin Bieber, who attended the medal presentation ceremony in a baseball cap and overalls.
Royal Tours by the Queen and Prince Philip
The Queen toured Canada with Prince Philip for her Golden Jubilee in 2002. In 2012, the Queen and Prince Philip restricted their Jubilee engagements to the United Kingdom — touring England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales between March and July 2012 — while other members of the royal family toured the Commonwealth.
During the Queen’s visit to Canada in 2010, there were ceremonies in honour of the forthcoming jubilee. On 30 June, the Queen unveiled a stained glass window that portrays her and Queen Victoria. It also depicts the royal ciphers of the two queens and the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings as it existed during the two reigns. It hangs in the Senate foyer, outside the Red Chamber. On 7 February 2012, Governor General David Johnston dedicated the window in honour of the Jubilee celebrations. On 3 July 2010, the Queen dedicated the Queen Elizabeth II Gardens in Winnipeg and planted a ninebark shrub cultivated in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.
Royal Tour of Canada by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall
From 20 to 23 May 2012, Charles and Camilla, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall toured Canada to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee with Canadians. The royal visit coincided with the Victoria Day holiday, which honours both Queen Victoria’s role as a Mother of Confederation and Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday in Canada. It is a popular time for royal visits. The Jubilee tour attracted far larger crowds than the royal couple’s previous visit to Canada in 2009. The royal couple visited Canadian Forces Base Gagetown and Saint John, New Brunswick, Toronto, Ontario and Regina, Saskatchewan. Events on the tour included a Canadian Forces event at Fort York commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a tour of First Nations University of Canada and a performance of the Regina Symphony Orchestra.
The royal couple were widely praised for their engagement with ordinary Canadians. Charles joined a game of street hockey in Saint John and received a DJ lesson at the Yonge Street Mission in Toronto. Camilla made her first speech on Canadian soil during the tour, addressing the Queen’s Own Rifles in Toronto as their honourary colonel-in-chief. In Regina, Charles was appointed honourary commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
While Charles and Camilla toured Canada, the RCMP was invited to guard the Queen at Horseguards Parade in London, England, during the Changing of the Guard ceremony on 23 May. The invitation mirrored Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, when the North-West Mounted Police became the first non-British, non-military unit to guard the Queen. (See also Royal Tours.)
Other Commonwealth Tours by Members of the Royal Family
The other Commonwealth realms received visits from members of the royal family over the course of 2012. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in addition to Canada. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — William and Kate — visited Malaysia, Singapore, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, their first overseas tour as a married couple since touring Canada in 2011. Kate made her first speech overseas in Malaysia in support of improved palliative care resources for terminally ill children. Prince Harry visited Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica, increasing support for the monarchy at a time when Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller was advocating Jamaica becoming a republic.
In Canada, the official commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee took place on 6 February 2012, the anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other party leaders praised the Queen’s six decades of "dedicated service to our country, to the Commonwealth and to the world." The Queen’s personal flag, which is usually only flown when the monarch is in residence, was displayed at Rideau Hall, Parliament Hill and each provincial legislature. Ottawa’s Peace Tower bells rang in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee.
In the United Kingdom, the major celebrations in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee took place in June 2012, the month of the Queen’s official birthday celebrations in Britain. The Thames Diamond Jubilee river pageant was held on 3 June and included 670 vessels from around the world, the longest boat parade in history. Members of the Royal Canadian Navy escorted the royal barge, and a replica voyageur canoe from the Canadian Canoe Museum participated in the flotilla. On 4 June, there was a Diamond Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace, and 2012 Diamond Jubilee beacons were lit around the United Kingdom including two at Canada House in Trafalgar Square, London. On 5 June, there was a thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, as there was during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria in 1897.
In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British and modern Canadian history, a milestone celebrated relatively modestly compared with the Diamond Jubilee of 2012. The Commonwealth visits by the Queen’s children and grandchildren over the course of the Diamond Jubilee year were part of a gradual transfer of royal duties to the younger generations of the royal family, increasing the public profile of junior members of the royal family, especially William and Harry. The Diamond Jubilee was also part of a revival of popular interest in the royal family in Canada that began with the Queen’s 2010 visit to Canada and continued through the wedding of William and Kate in 2011, the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the birth of Prince George in 2013 and Princess Charlotte in 2015.