by Pauline Kerr
A number of years ago, a youth choir was about to perform at an event in the area, and one of the songs was “God Save the Queen.”
The problem was, none of the choir members knew the words. It had been a long time since every school child in Canada routinely sang the anthem. Fortunately, one of the parents remembered, and the event went off without a hitch.
That pretty much describes the relationship Canada has had in recent years with the monarchy – a sort of arm’s length fondness that sometimes verges on respect. We are well aware the monarch has no real power in this country, but as figureheads go, Queen Elizabeth was, in many ways, ideal.
The memory of the choir, and many like it, came to mind as news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II was announced on Sept. 8. There were stories of Her Majesty’s visits to Canada, little anecdotes, personal reminiscences and official accounts, interspersed with discussions about what her death will mean to the monarchy, Great Britain, Canada and the world.
There were also stories of the scandals that have plagued British royalty over the years but somehow, never touched the Queen. There was something about her that went beyond the elegant hats and warm smile, that made her impervious to the proverbial “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Whatever it was, seemed to grow over the years. The reputation of the monarchy ebbed and flowed with time, but the Queen’s popularity only grew.
Canada has its monarchists as well as those who would happily break all ties with Great Britain, especially with royalty. That said, even some of those who would dispense with this tie to our colonial past, feel a sense of loss. She was Canada’s Queen.
Without a doubt, Queen Elizabeth II has been one of the most significant people in the world for the past seven decades. Other heads of state have changed – presidents have come and gone, new prime ministers have been elected, dictators have been overthrown, and Queen Elizabeth has remained, her very presence a beacon of stability in a very unstable world.
The Queen could be depended on to provide a message of hope, words of sympathy to those suffering in the wake of a tragedy, something that told people they were not alone. It was not the monarchy itself that inspired and comforted, it was her.
Whether we are monarchists or regard the monarchy as an anachronism, we find ourselves wondering what comes next, without this gracious woman offering words of comfort when they are desperately needed, a living symbol of grace, dignity and service to her nation.
These are uncomfortable times, as people in Great Britain face a cold winter of increasingly unaffordable heating fuel, combined with growing general inflation.
There is a war between Russia and Ukraine that threatens to draw in the rest of the world, devastating flooding in India and Bangladesh, and political unrest in many countries.
Canada, too, faces challenges – housing, health care and inflation, as well as the ongoing presence of COVID and the growing affects of climate change. A few words of comfort every now and then from a regal matriarch would be welcome.
As the crowds who gathered in the rain outside Buckingham Palace, spontaneously sang “God Save the Queen,” the realization gradually sank in that from now on, the words will be different. Everything will be different.
For the past 70 years, Canada has had a queen – and a gracious, dignified one at that, a woman whose words of wisdom were welcomed in good times and bad.
The anthem’s words are now, and will be for the foreseeable future, “God Save the King,” as they were when the song was adopted as the British national anthem in 1745.
Let this be one final tribute to Queen Elizabeth II:
God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen! Send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save the Queen!