Canadians react to the death of Queen Elizabeth II

Canadians react to the death of Queen Elizabeth II

When British Columbian Jason Dorey heard that Queen Elizabeth II had died, he was seized with an urge to share in his grief. So, the resident of Victoria headed to the B.C.

Queen Elizabeth II, right, and Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, left, walk near a crowd of people after attending mass at the Cathedral Church of St.James in Toronto on Sunday, July 4, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

When British Columbian Jason Dorey heard that Queen Elizabeth II had died, he was seized with an urge to share in his grief.

So, the resident of Victoria headed to the B.C. legislature to pay his respects before a portrait of the Queen in the stained-glass confines of the Hall of Honour, where he came upon a woman doing the same.

They talked of their admiration for the Queen. Both started to cry. 

And then the strangers were in each other’s arms, hugging and sobbing under the gaze of the woman they so appreciated. 

“I was in a state of shock,” Dorey said, his eyes still wet. “I’m just not used to not having her in my presence.”

News of the longest-serving British monarch’s death at age 96 sent shock waves of grief across Canada on Thursday. 

Few Canadians have known a time when the Queen wasn’t their official head of state.

From political leaders, to royal officers, to everyday citizens, Canadians remembered the sovereign as a paragon of duty and an enduring part of the national fabric.

“I think she’ll be remembered as one of the country’s greatest icons,” said Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada. “The constant in the world of change.”

Premiers and lieutenant-governors from coast to coast touted the Queen’s personal connection to their provinces over her dozens of visits to Canada during her long reign.

The Queen’s frequent presence showed that she was far more than a figurehead in Canada and paid close attention to the country through the good times and the bad, said Finch. 

“She was not a fair-weather friend,” said Finch. “She was truly here as one of us.” 

Canadians will process the Queen’s loss at their own pace as they reflect on her legacy and try to anticipate what lies ahead as King Charles III ascends to the throne, Finch said. 

“It’s one of those times in your life that you’re going to remember where you were,” he said. “It’s the end of an era.”

Larry Budd in Toronto was among the many Canadians who were following updates on the Queen’s health as her family flocked to her bedside Thursday. He said he choked up when he learned she was gone.

“The Queen has been part of my life for my entire life,” said Budd, 77. “She’s definitely been very much a part of Canadian culture for as long as I’ve been alive.”

David Lilley and his wife were only a couple days into their Halifax vacation when news of the Queen’s death sent them scrambling to book flights back to England.

Lilley is one of 10 royal ushers who officiate events such as weddings and funerals.

“I’ve got to be back for Westminster Abbey,” said Lilley, who was appointed to the position six years ago. “We all do the job until we’re 70, so I’ve got a few years left. And now I’ll be serving the King.”

Lilley met the Queen several times as part of his duties. “She took my arm, and I helped her down steps and things like that,” he said. “She was just very genuine …. She just could talk to people.”

English expat Richard Stead also fondly recalled the handful of times he had seen the Queen during her travels to Edmonton and New Zealand, and celebrating her coronation when he was a young man.

Stead, who has lived in Edmonton for nearly 50 years, said that he was very saddened to hear of her death. “It’s a great loss for the U.K.”

“It’s going to be hard for my generation to accept whoever will replace her,” said Stead. 

Shawn Wade, president of the B.C. branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, a royalist group with more than 100 members, likened learning of the Queen’s death to a bomb going off.

“It’s like losing someone in the family really,” said Wade. “She is in our lives from the time we are born …. You can’t comprehend it.”

In Montreal, Michelle Phelan said she was born the year Queen Elizabeth took the throne.

“She’s the only queen I’ve known,” she said.

Phelan praised the Queen for how she handled her role, especially given how young she was when she started her reign.

“Here, there are some Quebecers who don’t like the monarchy, but I think in the rest of Canada, or some of Canada respects it,” she said. “But even if we aren’t for the monarchy, we’re sad.”

The woman sharing Dorey’s grief back at the B.C. legislature turned out to be an American. 

Linda Woods, from suburban Philadelphia, was visiting Victoria on an Alaska-bound cruise ship. She said she had been on a tour of the historic legislature when the Queen’s death was announced, silencing the group as they bowed their heads. 

“She herself was a queen who did right by her country. I just admire her,” said Woods.

Dorey echoed the sentiment. “She was faithfully devoted to her country and the Commonwealth,” he said.

— with files from Paola Loriggio in Toronto, Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax, Angela Amato in Edmonton, Dirk Meissner in Victoria and Nono Shen in Vancouver

Source: This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2022. Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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