Prince Charles’s 10 Most Memorable Royal Visits to Canada
The Prince of Wales’s royal visits to Canada stretch back more than five decades, and paint a fascinating portrait of the man who will be king.
A History of Prince Charles in Canada
This year, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, marking the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne. The record-setting achievement has sparked discussion—and debate—about the future of the monarchy in Canada, and a renewed focus on the next generation of the royal family.
The Queen’s 73-year-old son, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales has been heir to the throne since the age of three and has visited Canada 18 times in the past 52 years, meeting Canadians from all walks of life. Here is a look back at Prince Charles’s most memorable royal visits to Canada, from the height of the Cold War in 1970 to the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 2017.
1970: The Cold War and the Canadian North
When Prince Charles was growing up, royal children did not usually accompany their parents on overseas tours. Charles remained at home or at school while his parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, toured the Commonwealth.
That changed in July 1970 when 21-year-old Charles visited Canada with his parents and younger sister, Princess Anne. First, he spent a couple of days in Ottawa attending a Canadian football league all-star game. The Globe and Mail observed, “He had never been in North America before, but he appeared totally at ease.” Charles then joined his family in Manitoba to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the province entering Confederation. Afterward, the family travelled to the Northwest Territories and what is now Nunavut, visiting communities near the Arctic Circle that had never before hosted royal guests, including Iqaluit (then Frobisher Bay) and Tuktoyaktuk. The New York Times reported that 1,200 Inuit people gathered in Iqaluit to watch Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Governor General Roland Michener welcome the royal family upon their arrival.
More than a symbolic gesture, there was genuine political significance to this tour: The presence of the Queen and her heir in the Northwest Territories was a reminder of Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic during the Cold War.
1975: The Action Man Goes Ice-Diving
In the 1970s, the press nicknamed Prince Charles “Action Man” as he seemed to be always on the move—playing polo, flying helicopters and serving in the Royal Navy. He lived up to this reputation on a 1975 visit to Canada when he and researcher Joseph MacInnis plunged under the ice-covered surface of Resolute Bay in what is now Nunavut. The CBC reported, “There had been a lot of talk about the dangers of this dive—the water so cold that a minute’s exposure could cause paralysis, the hazards of possible equipment failure.” To everyone’s relief, the dive went well. Charles wrote in his journal, “There were fascinating ice crystal formations and icicles suspended under the ice and inside the layers of these wafer thin crystal structures were large white shrimp like creatures.”
The diving trip in Resolute Bay was notable for the warm rapport between the prince and the press. Showing the sense of humour that would be a hallmark of his subsequent tours, Charles deflated his diving suit at a post-dive press conference, later writing, “I…had great pleasure in demonstrating the deflating characteristics of the suit which so astonished the press with mirth that they all downed their cameras and all burst into spontaneous applause.”
Take a look back at the most memorable royal tours of the past 100 years.
1979: The Eligible Bachelor at the Royal York Hotel
Charles once remarked in a magazine interview that 30 was a good age to marry, and by the late 1970s, popular speculation about the women in his life had reached a fever pitch. Wherever he travelled, he was described as an eligible bachelor.
On April 5, 1979, Charles departed the Royal York Hotel in Toronto for a reception with the Royal Regiment of Canada, in his dress uniform as honourary Colonel-in-Chief. The Toronto Star reported that the prince “cut a dashing and romantic figure in a scarlet tunic, a scarlet stripe down his tight-fitting trousers, decked out in gold braid, spurs and white gloves.” As he left the hotel, Charles was mobbed by a crowd of female secretaries gathered at the hotel for a professional convention. When he stopped to chat with the secretaries, one of the women kissed his hand and later told the Toronto Star, “I just think he’s so handsome, my heart skipped when he got close.”
In the months that followed, Canadians awaited the news of who would become the Princess of Wales…
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1983: Charles and Diana Visit Canada Together For the First Time
On February 24, 1981, The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer announced their engagement. They were married at St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 29 that same year. The press and public were fascinated by the new Princess of Wales who combined glamour and vulnerability in her public image and had strong rapport with children and people in need. (Here are 40 fascinating facts about Charles and Diana’s wedding that most people don’t know.)
In 1983, Charles and Diana toured the Commonwealth. In the spring, they travelled to Australia and New Zealand with their nine-month-old son, Prince William, who crawled for the first time in front of the cameras at a press conference, a tour famously dramatized in Season 4 of The Crown on Netflix.
On June 14 of that year, Charles and Diana started their 18-day Canadian tour, landing at the Canadian Forces base in Shearwater outside Halifax. The visit commemorated the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists during the American Revolution. Although Charles made all the formal speeches on the tour, he was overshadowed by Diana and there was intense interest in her informal conversations with Canadians on royal walkabouts.
Diana celebrated her 22nd birthday on Canada Day in Edmonton. When he opened the World University Games that day, Charles stated in his speech, “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.” 60,000 people sung Happy Birthday to Diana in the stadium.
The royal couple would return to Canada in 1986 to open Expo 86 in Vancouver.
Photo: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
1991: Charles, Diana, William and Harry Tour Ontario
Charles and Diana visited Canada with their sons William and Harry in October 1991. By this time, their marriage was in crisis and the couple undertook largely separate itineraries, hosting the occasional joint reception on the Royal Yacht Britannia, which served as their home base for the tour.
During the tour, Charles received an honourary degree from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, and stated in his speech, “Within the Canadian federal home there are many rooms, each with its own particular memories. That home has housed the native aboriginal peoples, the two founding immigrant European communities, each with their own language and culture, and generations of other immigrants which Canada has never ceased to welcome from all the corners of the world.” He then joked, “I recognize that touching on the debate about Canada’s constitutional future is a risky business, but then I have a hereditary defect—living dangerously!”
Macleans reported, “Many of those who saw Charles up close and heard him speak said that they were impressed by his sense of humour and his commitment to his chosen causes, which include education, architecture and the environment.” The magazine also noted, “During their Canadian visit, [Charles and Diana] frequently attended separate functions. When they were together in public, they rarely exchanged a word or a smile.”
As in 1983, Diana overshadowed Charles during the tour with the press reporting that “Diana steals the show.” Photographs of Diana embracing William and Harry aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in Toronto Harbour or enjoying a sightseeing trip with her young sons aboard the Maid of the Mist tour boat at Niagara Falls were published around the world.
Charles and Diana separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
1998: A Whistler Ski Trip with William and Harry
When Charles visited Canada alone in 1996, the same year as his divorce from Diana, the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge reported that “The red carpet was out, but the crowds stayed home.”
That changed in 1998 when Charles brought his sons William and Harry to British Columbia for a ski trip in Whistler. Diana had died in car accident in 1997 and critical press coverage of Charles had softened. There was popular sympathy for Charles as single father spending quality time with his bereaved teenage sons.
Charles undertook a few official engagements in Vancouver including a visit to a nursing home and an awards ceremony hosted by the Campaign for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but the highlight of trip was four days on the ski slopes in Whistler. The three princes posed for photographs in Canadian Olympic Team Uniforms from the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While Charles had attracted crowds of female admirers in 1979, here it was William who was greeted by hundreds of screaming teenage girls, with the press comparing the young prince to actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
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2009: Charles and Camilla Visit Canada Together For The First Time
On April 9, 2005, Charles married his long-time companion Camilla Parker Bowles in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, followed by a service of prayer and dedication at St. George’s Chapel.
The couple visited Canada for the time together in November 2009, undertaking public engagements in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The tour highlighted Camilla’s ancestral connections to Canada as the couple visited Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, former home of Camilla’s great-great-great-grandfather, Sir Allan Napier McNabb, Prime Minister of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856.
In Montreal, a group of around a hundred Quebec nationalist protestors chanted anti-monarchy slogans outside the regimental hall where Charles was due to present new colours to the Black Watch of Canada, delaying the event. When the royal couple arrived, Charles stated in his speech, “First of all I just wanted to say how very sorry my wife and I are to have kept you all waiting so long—I hear there’s a little local disturbance.”
Compared to Charles’s first visit to Canada with Diana in 1983, however, the tour was not a success. The November weather discouraged crowds from gathering to see the royal couple on their public engagements. A lesson learned, subsequent Canadian tours by Charles and Camilla would take place over the Victoria Day or Canada Day holiday weekends.
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2012: The Diamond Jubilee Tour and the Prince’s Charities
In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. While the Queen and Prince Philip undertook public engagements in the United Kingdom, their children and grandchildren took the celebration abroad by touring the Commonwealth. Charles and Camilla celebrated the Jubilee in Canada over Victoria Day weekend—the Queen’s official birthday in Canada—attending the fireworks at Ashbridge’s Bay Park in Toronto.
The 2012 tour was Charles’s first visit to Canada since the 2011 founding of the Prince’s Charities Canada (now the Prince’s Trust Canada), and included public engagements that highlighted the organization’s philanthropic work. At a visit to Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission to highlight the Prince’s Charities “Seeing is Believing” initiative, which paired businesses with at-risk youth, Charles was shown how to use the DJ equipment at a youth employment workshop, resulting in some of the most widely published photographs from the tour. The 2012 tour also included an expanded role for Camilla as she undertook individual engagements and made her first speech in Canada as honourary Colonel-in-Chief of The Queen’s Own Rifles regiment.
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2014: The Centenary of The First World War—and Political Controversy
In 2014, Charles and Camilla returned to Canada for another Victoria Day weekend to commemorate both the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that precipitated Canada’s Confederation. The tour also marked Charles’s first visit to Canada as a grandfather, and he received gifts for his new grandson, Prince George, including a tiny aviator jacket from Red River College’s Stevenson aircraft hangar in Winnipeg. (Meet the Queen’s great-grandchildren, from oldest to youngest.) Nevertheless, press interest in the tour was subdued compared to the 2011 Canadian tour by George’s parents, the newlywed William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or even the 2012 Diamond Jubilee tour.
That changed when reports surfaced that Charles had made an offhand remark while touring the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax. In a private conversation with a former Polish war refugee, Charles allegedly stated that by annexing the Crimea, Russian president Vladimir “Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.” The story prompted intense press coverage that included the complicated history of Anglo-Russian relations and Charles’s own history of speaking his mind on a variety of topics from architecture to sustainable development. Putin later commented on the alleged remark, “This is not royal behaviour.”
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2017: The 150th Anniversary of Confederation
In 2017, Canada marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation. While the Queen and Prince Philip had visited Ottawa and Montreal for the centennial in 1967, they were no longer undertaking overseas tours. Instead, Charles and Camilla travelled to Canada, first visiting Iqaluit—one of the destinations on Charles’s first Canadian tour in 1970—then Prince Edward County in Ontario before joining the celebrations in Ottawa.
The presence of Charles and Camilla at the sesquicentennial on Parliament Hill, an event that would have been attended by the Queen in the past, highlighted the gradual transition from one generation to the next within the monarchy. In a bilingual speech in French and English, Charles expressed admiration for Canada, a country that he had toured 18 times over the course of nearly 50 years, stating “Around the world, Canada is recognized as a champion of human rights; as a peace-keeper; a responsible steward of the environment and natural resources; and as a powerful and consistent example of diversity and the power of inclusion with, if I may say so, Canada’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples demonstrating a remarkable determination to forge an ever better society.”
Next, find out what will happen when Prince Charles becomes king.