Friday 1 July 2011

Ottawa - Canada's Royal Capital

By virtue of its status as the national capital, Ottawa can lay claim to more royal connections than any other Canadian city. Indeed, Ottawa (originally named Bytown, after Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers) was chosen to be Canada's capital city by none other than the Queen-Empress Victoria herself (the great decision is commemorated in Ottawa's coat of arms by the inclusion of a representation of St. Edward's Crown). 

Yesterday the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge laid wreaths at Canada's National War Memorial. Did you know that every member of the Royal Family always lays a wreath at the memorial when they are in Ottawa? 

The memorial was unveiled by Prince William's great-grandparents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) in May 1939 to honour the fallen of the First World War -- no one knew that the Second World War would start just over 3 months later. The unveiling of the National War Memorial was also the occasion of the first ever Royal Walkabout. Queen Elizabeth, having heard Scottish voices in the crowd, broke with protocol and walked over to the adoring spectators to converse. And so Ottawa can claim to be the birthplace of one of the greatest of royal traditions. 

When Prince William attends the Canada Day celebrations later today on Parliament Hill (which, coincidentally, will also be the 50th anniversary of his mother's birth) he will be sitting on a stage in front of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings, the original cornerstone of which was laid by his g-g-g-grandfather, King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales, and after whom the major thoroughfare of King Edward Avenue is named). To his far right will be a statue of his g-g-g-g-grandmother Queen Victoria and to his far left will be a statue of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II (upon her favourite horse, Centennial, a gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). 

Were HRH to venture into the Centre Block he would find another statue of Queen Victoria (as a young queen) in the library as well as a brand new "Diamond Jubilee" stained glass window honouring both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II and a carved corbel also honouring his grandmother. Outside the entrance to the Senate (with its royal thrones, which have been occupied by his grandparents and great-grandparents) HRH would find portraits of all of the Canadian Monarchs since Confederation and in the nearby Francophonie room are portraits of all of the French Monarchs of Canada -- to whom HRH can also lay claim to some relationship (however distant).

Tonight and tomorrow night Prince William will be sleeping at Canada's Government House (Rideau Hall). There too he will find paintings of his grandparents and great-grandparents and a stained glass window honouring his grandmother. HRH will be sleeping in a building in which a great many of his ancestors and relations have also slept, dined and partied. Aside from all of his immediate family (parents, aunts, uncles, grand-parents) we can also mention his great-grandfather King George VI, his great-grand-uncle King Edward VIII and his great-great-grandfather King George V, along with various other great-aunts and great-uncles too numerous to mention.

Ottawa, a city of gothic towers once known as "Westminster in the Wilderness", is a city with a proud royal heritage. Indeed, although a small city by global standards (1 million metro), Ottawa's traditions make it arguably the city most similar, or perhaps familiar, to ceremonial London and, therefore, a city which the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge could regard as a home away from home.The Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Governor General's Foot Guards mount ceremonial duties in Ottawa, including the Changing of the Guard. Wearing their bearskins and red tunics, these guards might easily be mistaken for the guards who perform the same function for the Sovereign in London. The House of Commons and the Senate are modelled almost exactly on the British House of Commons and House of Lords, and the architecture, traditions and ceremonies are clearly adapted from the Mother of Parliaments. 

"Royal" is a designation that may only be granted with the permission of the Sovereign. Ottawa is home to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Royal Ottawa Hospital, the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada and the Royal Ottawa Golf Club to name a few.

Ottawa is a dynamic and youthful city, which can lay claim to the second highest quality of life in North America. Yet it is also a city steeped in tradition and history. The city and the royal couple would seem to make a perfect fit.

No comments: