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The Canadian Kingdom

The Canadian Kingdom

150 Years of Constitutional Monarchy
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Royalty and the Arts in Canada
Carolyn Harris

On February 6, 2017, Queen Elizabeth II reached her blue sapphire jubilee, having reigned for sixty-five years in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other Commonwealth realms. While the name of the Queen’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, became synonymous with her era, the description of the current Queen’s reign as a “new Elizabethan age” did not endure for more than a few years after her accession in 1952 and coronation in 1953. Elizabeth II has reigned over a period of such profound social, political, and cultural change that the unifying themes that will determine her historical legacy remain a matter of debate. The Queen has been praised for her roles as Head of the Commonwealth, a politically impartial constitutional monarch, the leader of a “service monarchy” devoted to philanthropy, and matriarch of a multi-generational royal family that represents the future of the dynasty.

In a 2012 biography written on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, journalist Robert Hardman speculated that the Queen will have another lasting legacy: the “curator monarch.” Since the reign of King Henry VIII, the Queen and her predecessors have accumulated a vast collection of between seventy-five thousand and one million paintings, decorative objects, and sculptures. For centuries, these cultural treasures were accessible to a privileged few and managed by a small curatorial staff, but the Queen has ensured that the Royal Collection has become accessible to a wide international audience.

In addition to displaying items from the collection at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Holyroodhouse, the Queen has approved touring exhibitions that have showcased the Royal Collection to aninternational audience and loaned individual pieces to museums and galleries abroad. Richard Dorment, art critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in Britain, praised the Queen’s expansion of public access to the Royal Collection, writing at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, “It is the Queen who set up specialist conservation studios for the care and preservation of paintings, furniture, frames, armour, textiles, ceramics, works on paper, and bookbinding. She is also renowned for her generosity in lending works of art from the Royal Collection to other institutions here and abroad.” Dorment observed that most major international exhibitions include pieces from the Royal Collection, as the Queen’s policy is to agree to all requests from reputable cultural institutions for loans of art works that are in a suitable condition to travel.

The Queen’s role as curator monarch has exerted a profound impact on Canadian art and culture, building upon centuries of patronage of Canadian artists, architects, and cultural institutions by past generations of royalty, most notably members of the royal family who resided in Canada for years at a time. A number of Canada’s past royal residents, including Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise and granddaughter Princess Patricia, were accomplished artists in their own right who raised the profile of Canadian galleries by founding new cultural institutions, attending events, submitting their pieces for judgment in Canadian exhibitions, and donating their work. Over the course of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has loaned or donated art to Canadian cultural institutions and acquired works by Canadian artists for the Royal Collection, expanding the scope of royal involvement in the arts in Canada and setting precedents for future generations in the royal family.

The patronage of art and culture was part of the identity of English and French monarchs from the time of their first engagement with the lands and peoples of North America. Medieval monarchs were valued for their ability to lead troops into battle and administer justice, but a sixteenth century king or queen was also expected to preside over a cultured court frequented by artists and writers who helped shape the monarch’s image. In England, King Henry VIII and members of his family were painted by Hans Holbein, while Henry’s contemporary, King François I of France, provided Leonardo da Vinci with a residence in the Loire Valley, Clos Lucé, a short distance from the royal palace at Amboise. The artistic output of the English and French royal courts was intended for an international audience. Diplomacy between monarchs included exchanges of portraits, and artists travelled widely to seek royal patronage.

European engagement with First Nations leaders prompted early examples of royal art patronage in a Canadian context. In 1710, Queen Anne invited “the four Kings of Canada” — three Mohawk chiefs from the Iroquois Confederacy, including Peter Brant (grandfather of Joseph Brant), and a Mahican leader of the Algonquin peoples — to Britain as part of diplomatic mission to negotiate a continued alliance against France. Anne commissioned four majestic portraits of her visitors by the Dutch artist Jan Verelst, which were displayed at Kensington Palace in London until the current Queen’s reign. In 1977, when Elizabeth II toured Canada on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee, she presented the paintings to the National Archives of Canada. In 2010, the images appeared on a Canadian postage stamp to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary of the meeting between Queen Anne and the four kings. In 2017, the paintings went on display in the new Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

Early visits by members of the royal family to what is now Canada focused on military matters rather than cultural patronage. The only recorded interaction between the future King William IV and an artist on the voyage of the HMS Pegasus, which visited Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in 1787 as part of a larger voyage, was an altercation with a German landscape painter in the Caribbean who offended the prince.

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Battle Royal

Battle Royal

Monarchists vs. Republicans and the Crown of Canada
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They all knew they were making history that summer. Over the month of July 1764, some two thousand chiefs and sachems, holy men, elders, warriors, and family members representing twenty-four indigenous First Nations arrived for a Great Council at Fort Niagara. Also present was the personal representative of the British king, George III. This diplomat, Sir William Johnson, was the superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies of America. Although Fort Niagara had been built by the French, it was now in British hands, having been appropriated following their conquest of New France in the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). Now, the king requested that the leaders of all the indigenous peoples living in the northeastern regions of North America congregate at the place where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. There, amidst the beauty of nature and under the ramparts and guns of the British Empire, they would discuss and enter into a treaty setting out how all this land was to be governed.
The First Nations people came from far and wide. Some arrived from what is now Nova Scotia, while others journeyed from as far west as the Great Plains. Many more travelled south, from Hudson Bay, while others headed north, beginning their treks in the Adirondack Mountains. Leaders of the Algonquin, Cree, and Huron nations arrived along with representatives of the Nipissing, Pawnee, Mohican, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations, to name just a few. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy of the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, and Onondaga was also well represented. These leaders and their people had all been informed that the French were no longer a power in the land and that the British would be their nearest non-indigenous neighbours. They had also been informed that the British king had spoken of new rules regarding how the British would live with the indigenous peoples in the land now claimed by the British Crown. There had been a royal proclamation, and they desired to know more. The chiefs wanted to hear from the king’s delegate himself, to listen to how Sir William would describe the new order of things, so they could decide if the English king’s words were fair and just, and determine whether they would live in peace or war with the British.
Johnson, married to a Mohawk clan mother named Molly Brant, was a keen observer of indigenous traditions and political systems. He respected the oral traditions of the First Nations, the importance of symbolism, and the idea that these nations deserved equal respect and dignity from the British. Over the month of July, Johnson met separately with the leaders of each First Nation to discuss the future. He gave them details of George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, whereby the British claimed sovereignty over the eastern half of North America. He stressed that this declaration recognized the existence of Indian nations and their pre-existing ownership of their lands. He further promised that the British desired free and fair trade with all First Nations and freedom of movement throughout all lands subject to the British Crown. And there was more. Johnson assured the chiefs, in the name of his king, that under British law the Crown had to respect indigenous land ownership, and that the only way for the British to acquire more land than they currently held was through treaties signed between the British Crown and First Nations. British subjects could never take land from “the Indians” without their consent and without the approval of the king. Furthermore, the British Crown promised to bring to justice any Briton who committed robbery or murder against indigenous persons and pledged that the Crown would protect and aid First Nations against their enemies.
By the end of July 1764, Johnson had secured a unanimous agreement from the chiefs present at the Great Council, and on July 29 the Treaty of Niagara was confirmed. This treaty was made real through the exchange of covenant chain wampum belts, which served as a symbol of the agreement between the British and indigenous First Nations to live in peace, friendship, and respect with one another, with each nation recognizing all the others as equals. The wampum belt that Johnson gave to the First Nations chiefs showed two figures — one British, one indigenous — linked by a chain of silver, signifying that the treaty required constant attention and polishing in order to remain bright and vibrant. The belt given in return to Johnson by the chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was a “two row” wampum. Ray Fadden, a Haudenosaunee scholar, describes the symbolic significance of this belt: “[It shows] two paths, or two vessels, travelling down the same river together. One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the Indian people, their laws, their customs and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs, and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, but in our own boat. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.”
While most Canadians have never heard of the Treaty of Niagara or the Royal Proclamation of 1763, these documents are recalled by First Nations to this day as reminders of the historic linkages between these nations and the British Crown, and of the ongoing constitutional obligations borne by Canadian governments to indigenous peoples. In 1763 and 1764 the Crown made legal commitments to First Nations, most of which were dishonourably broken and abused. The honour of the Crown still remains to be attended to, enhanced, and polished.

Distant Echoes of Regal Origins
The monarchy in Canada today is necessarily of British origin. Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada because she is also “Queen of the United Kingdom and of her other Realms and Territories.” She holds sovereignty over Canada because her ancestors laid claim to Newfoundland in 1497, the Hudson Bay watershed in 1670, and acquired Nova Scotia by treaty from the French in 1713. And, most significantly, the British won control of a large part of North America from the French during the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63. The Citadelle of Quebec fell to the British in 1759, with the French government of Louis XV ceding all of New France, save for the little islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, to George III and his British Empire through the Treaty of Paris in 1763. While the British lost possession of the American Thirteen Colonies in 1783, they retained control of the northern half of the continent and its separate colonies and territories, eventually witnessing four of these jurisdictions — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario — form the nation of Canada in 1867.
We are our history, and the history of Canada has been shaped by the actions of the British Crown. But monarchies existed in what is now Canada long before the arrival of the English. In 1534, the French explorer Jacques Cartier set foot on the Gaspé, planting a crucifix while claiming all that he saw in the name of Francis I, the king of France. This act inaugurated over two centuries of French royal rule in North America. These years would witness the birth of a distinct French Canadian society in North America, centred upon the St. Lawrence River and the lands of Acadia.
Watching Cartier raise his cross to his king were indigenous peoples. Likely Haudenosaunee, these wary observers were members of just one of the First Nations spanning the continent. A significant number of these nations were themselves either monarchies or had governments strongly influenced by monarchical ideas of aristocracy and hereditary rule, a reality not lost on early French colonial leaders. The first international agreements between First Nations peoples and Europeans were military and trade alliances entered into between indigenous leaders, viewed by the French as kings, and representatives of the French Crown.
The arrival of the English into North America heralded a period of added complications and increased tensions to an already complex political environment. By the early eighteenth century, the British Crown was front and centre in the development of two crucial political realities in the history of Canada: one focusing on the power relations between the French and the British, the other the link between the British and indigenous First Nations. The historical narrative respecting both sets of relationships is fraught with contradictions. In the years before and immediately after the conquest of New France, agents of the British Crown were leading figures in some of the most shameful episodes of racism and discrimination against First Nations peoples and French Canadians in our country’s history. In the opinion of many Canadians to this day, these are chapters in Canada’s history that still bring the reputation of the Crown into disgrace. In the years after 1763, though, we observe the first signs of a willingness on the part of various Crown officials to marry English and French interests; to recognize and respect certain features of the distinct social, linguistic, religious, and legal culture found in Quebec; and to see French Canadians — former foes — become loyal subjects of the Crown, eventually setting the stage for Confederation in 1867. Even pre-dating these events, we see the beginning of a special, historic, and ongoing relationship between indigenous First Nations and the British Crown. Before the conquest of New France, the British were entering into treaties with First Nations in what are now the Maritime Provinces; these documents recognized indigenous nations as nations with legal personality and with rights to traditional use of indigenous lands. These treaties and the related Royal Proclamation of 1763 endure as valid legal documents. They are recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as bestowing significant entitlements to First Nations and important obligations on the Crown. The relationship between the Crown and indigenous Canadians is one that is both as historic as the old treaties and as current as the struggle for indigenous self-government and social justice.

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