As word spread that Queen Elizabeth had died on Thursday, Canadians began the ritual of honouring the 96-year-old British monarch, and her record-setting 70 years as the country’s head of state. Flags were lowered on government buildings, flowers were placed in her memory at statues, and pints were raised at neighbourhood pubs. On Friday, people lined up to sign books of condolences across the country.
Online, they praised the Queen’s steadfast endurance, her rooted-in-placeness while the world spun out and evolved at rapid speed around her. They posted anecdotes and photographs of the Queen that spanned decades – tales of handing her flowers as a young student during one of her 22 trips to Canada, peering over the crowd to glimpse a wave from the motorcade, exchanging a few words in a receiving line.
On a cold late September day at Ottawa’s CFB Uplands in 1984, Victoria Dyson had to take a curtsy class in her Brownie uniform, before waiting what seemed like hours at the end of the red carpet for the Queen’s plane to arrive. At eight years old, she knew all about the Royal Family from her mom and nana, and had dreamed of meeting the Queen. “She was absolutely beautiful,” recalled Ms. Dyson, a retired air force master corporal in Kingston. She saved the yellowed news clipping from that day, and continued as an adult to follow the Queen’s life. “She pivoted the Royal Family through decades, through challenging times and our changing world.”
In 1977, nine-year-old Samantha Hoffmann, now a deputy fire chief in Caledon, Ont., was chosen from her class to meet the Queen during a visit to Ottawa. Ms. Hoffmann can’t recall what the Queen said to their group, or the building where it happened, but she still remembers the monarch’s dignified presence – and reaching through the railing to touch her hand as she passed.
“I will never forget the excitement of seeing her up close,” Ms. Hoffmann said. Her death “feels like the end of something, like it’s not going to be the same again.”
In Ottawa, Spencer Brickles, a master’s student at Carleton University,stopped on his bike at Parliament’s Centennial Flame to photograph a bouquet of flowers left in the Queen’s memory. “I saw her as a monolithic figure, who was greater than the physical person than she was,” yet also a leader he admired for the stability she brought to her role. Mr. Brickles was named after Diana, Princess of Wales – Spencer was Diana’s family name and his mom was a big fan. At 25, he pointed out, he is the same age as the Queen was when her father’s unexpected death resulted in her coronation. “And I can’t even pay my rent,” he joked. “To dedicate your life to service like that is pretty remarkable.”
Outside the gates of Rideau Hall, on Thursday evening, Karen Casallas, a 29-year-old French teacher from Winnipeg, stood at the foot of a statue of the young Queen on horseback. She leaned forward to touch the stone base in a quiet moment, reflecting on all those unfaltering decades on the throne. “To have a woman in such an important position was inspiring,” she said. Ms. Casallas had landed in Ottawa – her first trip to the capital – to an emotional text from her mom in Colombia that the Queen had died. The statue was her first stop. “I feel like if my mother was here she would have done the same – so it is a little bit of a tribute to her as well.”
Outside the Queen Elizabeth hotel in downtown Montreal was Seif Mufti, a native of Tunisia, who moved to Canada in 2006 and became a citizen in 2010. Pledging allegiance to the Queen at his citizenship ceremony was “a turning point” in his life, he said. “I grew up with her images, I followed history through her decisions, through her leadership.”
It has been reassuring to have the Queen’s steady presence through tumultuous times, Mr. Mufti said – “someone who has the capability of maintaining a kind of calm … When things go really wrong we need someone with her state of mind to calm down and bring some peace.”
He fell in love with Canada when he was seven years old through pictures, he said, and becoming a citizen was a dream come true. Pledging allegiance to the Queen was “like an engagement, an honour, to fulfill what I came for.”
Steven Jaslow knew the Queen wasn’t doing well but it still came as a “shock” when he saw the news of her death. “She’s had such a long reign,” he said, on the street Thursday evening in Montreal.
His wife, a royal watcher, is “broken up” and following the news closely. She even asked him to add the BBC to their TV package so she could watch the British broadcaster’s coverage.
As for the new King, Mr. Jaslow believes Charles deserves his chance and that he will do well.
“He’s been waiting a long time, so I think he’s definitely earned it. I think it’ll be good for the future of Canada – a very grounded man, well-spoken … He’s been through a lot throughout the years, but that’s in the past.”
The dining room of Toronto’s Queen and Beaver pub has a portrait of the young Queen on its wall and a bust of her at the end of its bar – a natural place to raise a toast to the late monarch.
Maureen Taylor, 62, and two friends ordered a round of Pimm’s cups – the most English of drinks – in the Queen’s honour. The former CBC reporter, who left journalism to become a physician’s assistant, has long been a history buff, devouring books about past British monarchs.
But she is ambivalent about the institution’s role in modern Canada and notes her Irish roots. Her feelings for Elizabeth were more personal, she says, born of her admiration for the way the Queen carried herself and her longevity.
“I won’t be this way with the rest of them … not with Charles,” Ms. Taylor said. “It was just Queen Elizabeth. And here I am. This sort of Irish Republican, finding herself a little bit teary today.”
A trickle of mourners on Friday came up the steps of the Ontario Legislature, Queen’s Park, to sign one of two books of condolences. By 2:30 p.m., legislative officials say 122 people had come in to pay their respects in the building’s main lobby.
One of them was Jean Codrington, who came to Canada from Jamaica in the 1970s. She said she felt compelled to come downtown from North York to sign the book and thank the Queen for her devotion to duty.
“She was reverent in my eyes,” she said, adding that her friends all know her for her love of the Queen, buying her royal trinkets on visits to Britain.
“I think Charles will do a good job,” she said of the new King. “He has been in training for a long while.”
Marian Eta Simon, 74, said she came to sign one of the condolences books at Queen’s Park before heading to a nearby appointment. She said she had come to Canada as a small child after the Second World War from a displaced persons camp in Ulm, Germany, in 1951 with her Polish father and Czechoslovakian mother, before settling in Toronto’s Kensington Market area.
“That’s the first song I was taught in kindergarten, God Save the Queen,” she said, her voice quaking with emotion. “I wrote, ‘May her memory be a blessing,’ which in the Jewish religion, that’s what you say. This is what I grew up with. She was the only monarch I knew.”
In an interview, Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney remembered meeting the Queen in 1987, when she was just 13, at a dinner at the Château Frontenac in Quebec City when her father, Brian Mulroney, was prime minister. Ms. Mulroney remembers her as “incredibly gracious and kind” and said it was a moment she would never forget.
“I got back and I wrote in my diary: ‘Dear Diary, you are not going to believe this, I’ve met the Queen,’ ” Ms. Mulroney said. “And that I had figured out why you had to wear a long dress when you met the Queen. It was to conceal your knees that were knocking when you met her because you were so nervous.”
On Thursday evening, a trickle of people with ties to Hong Kong set up memorials outside the building where the British consulate in Vancouver is located. They dropped off bouquets of flowers and put up a picture of the young Queen, with the caption: “Goodbye my Queen. R.I.P. Always remember.”
Among them was Andrew Yu, whose family emigrated from the former British colony to Canada in the 1980s.
Mr. Yu, who’s in his 30s, said he grew up knowing the Queen as the country’s head of state: “She had a great life, she did a lot for her country, for Hong Kong and for Canada.”
It was during her reign when the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, Mr. Yu said. “So I guess her passing, in some ways, from my point of view, is also an analogy of Hong Kong’s passing because we all know what’s happening in Hong Kong.”
Bill Chan, also among the group who paid tribute to the Queen, was helping light candles spelling out “U.K.”
“She gave us freedom,” Mr. Chan said, adding Hong Kongers had a good life while it was under British colonial rule.
Back then, there was no fear of getting arrested for speaking up against the government, he noted. But now, it’s different, he said.
Mr. Chan, who moved from Hong Kong to Canada two years ago, said the Queen was like a mother figure to many Hong Kongers. Now, “we are like orphans.”
Thursday late afternoon, Lorren Banks was sitting at an English pub in Vancouver’s Chinatown where happy hour was offered the whole day.
“I was heartfelt,” she said, tears streaming down her face.
“She was loyal … she took her duties at such an extreme that it was really unbelievable.”
Ms. Banks said she feels strongly about the Queen’s passing because the monarchy is part of Canada.
“Even though we all talk about colonialism … I understand a lot of people are upset about that. She did a lot and I have a lot of respect for her.”
Ms. Banks said the Queen’s 22 visits to Canada and her recent condolences for the victims of the mass stabbing in Saskatchewan on the weekend meant a lot to her as a Canadian: “She’s aware of our situations and she loved Canada.”
Alison Fielding and her husband David drove from their home in Truro, N.S., to Halifax Friday morning to sign the book of condolences left at Government House, the official residence of Nova Scotia’s lieutenant-governor.
Ms. Fielding said she’d admired the Queen since she was a young girl and three decades ago, Ms. Fielding met her.
In 1991, when the British-born Ms. Fielding’s sons were attending a boarding school in northern England, the Queen and Prince Philip made a private visit to that school to see whether it was suitable for Prince William and Prince Harry.
The school set up a discreet meet-and-greet for families of students the following day. Ms. Fielding took her six-year-old daughter out of school and queued up with a few hundred others for her chance to meet the monarch.
“[My daughter] was a little girl and it was an all boys school and the Queen actually looked at us and said to her, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Ms. Fielding recounted. “She was very personable. She talked to this little girl with pigtails in the crowd.” The next day, the headmaster at her daughter’s school chided Ms. Fielding for the girl’s absence and noted that she did not look ill.
“I said, ‘No, we went to meet the Queen.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah right.’ … We had to wait till the pictures were developed and then I took them in and said, ‘See?’ ”
Lori Cormier also stopped by Government House Friday morning to sign the book of condolences, expecting to see a long queue of fellow mourners, but there was none. Visitors trickled in slowly that morning – staff on site told her they expected a larger crowd on the weekend.
Ms. Cormier grew up in Amherst, N.S., with a monarch-obsessed grandmother who looked like the Queen Mother and inherited her interest in the Royal Family. Ms. Cormier, who was born in 1970, was initially captivated by Diana, watching her wedding on TV with her family as a child and then, as a young adult, her funeral. It was in the wake of Diana’s death that Ms. Cormier’s affection for the Queen blossomed.
“She kind of turned after that, the Queen did, to become more open with the public. I think that whole memory of her with Diana’s children is what I remember most. She was so close with those boys.”
The Canadian Press