TORONTO — It’s nearly 5,000 miles from the estates of England’s royal family to the island city of Victoria, British Columbia where Prince Harry, his American-born wife, Meghan Markle, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s infant son Archie took up residence for a hiatus from the glamor and burdens of royalty.
After six weeks away from the tabloids and paparazzi on Canada’s West Coast, the couple decided it was time for more Canada. Even after an emergency summit of the family convened by Queen Elizabeth, Canadians are still getting their heads around the idea that the popular but polarizing royals would prefer to live amongst them.
That Harry and Meghan would choose to spend at least part of their time here was seen as flattering and exciting, but already the second thoughts are seeping in.
The Toronto Star in an editorial last week heartily welcomed the royal decampment, but came back with a second editorial this week saying that Harry and Meghan were welcome, “but on our terms.”
The hesitations reflect the fact that the duke and duchess are in uncharted territory, with questions of money, security and royal prerogatives very much unsettled.
“Until there future role is defined, there are bound to be thorny questions involving Canada’s very particular relationship to the monarchy,” the paper wrote. “And that’s not up to the Sussexes to decide.”
And the rival Globe and Mail was even more blunt, explaining in its own editorial why British royals, even those “stepping back” like Harry and Meghan, “can’t live here.” The reason: Canada’s version of the monarchy is “virtual:” “Our royals don’t live here. They reign from a distance.”
“The Sussexes are working out their own personal issues, and Canadians wish them the best of luck,” the paper wrote. “Canada welcomes people of all faiths, nationalists and races, but if you’re a senior member of our royal family, this country cannot be your home. … Canada is not a halfway house for anyone looking to get out of Britain while remaining a royal.”
And a survey released Wednesday by Canadian pollster Angus Reid Institute offered some sobering findings for the new part-time Canadians, even if Harry remains the most popular member of the “The Firm” — as the extended royal clan is known — with a 69 percent favorable rating. Just 14% of those polled said they would be “very pleased” if Harry, Meghan and baby Archie “end up spending a significant time in Canada,” while 50% said they “don’t care either way.”
A strong majority — 73% — said the Canadian government shouldn’t foot the bill for security and other costs associated with the move, and 66% say the royal family is either becoming “less relevant” or “no longer relevant at all” in the lives of ordinary Canadians.
The so-called “Megxit” may have “set the hearts of monarchists and celebrity watchers aflutter, but that doesn’t mean Canadians are eager to subsidize the couple’s living costs while they’re in the country,” the pollster said.
The Canadian relocation was not exactly a bolt from the blue.
The 35-year-old Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, has long chafed under the scrutiny and obsessive media coverage he and his wife received in Britain. The young royals both had deep ties and warm friendships here — Los Angeles-born Ms. Markle from her seven years working as an actress in Toronto and Harry from his work with the Invictus Games in 2017. The two reportedly met at a blind date set up by Markus Anderson, the global membership director of The Soho House in Toronto.
Eight-month-old Archie waited out the recent royal drama that transfixed the globe at the Toronto home of his parents’ best friends — Ben and Jessica Mulroney. Mr. Mulroney is the son of a former Canadian prime minster and his wife was a stylist for Ms. Markle during her days on the TV legal drama “Suits.”
At first, it appeared Harry’s grandmother might quash the couple’s hopes of a Canadian idyll. But on Jan. 13, the queen issued a statement that, for the first time, acknowledged that British upper lips could soften.
“My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family,” she said. Then, the Queen gave a royal nod to the changing times. “We respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life” and spend more time in Canada.
Some here have welcomed the couple with open arms.
“We wish Harry and Meghan very well,” said Davis Whittington-Heeney, branch coordinator in Toronto for The Monarchist League of Canada, while acknowledging the couple unnerved their hosts slightly by catching “everyone by surprise.”
Yet, as followers of the popular Netflix series “The Crown” know, the desire to step back from palace life is a constant in the history of the royal family. The surprise was how far from the palace Harry and Meghan wish relocate and that the Queen would bless their New World way of semi-royalty near the end of her reign.
Just before the couple made their announcement, Canadian pollster John Wright of Dart C-Suite Communicators, ran a poll asking Canadians if they would like to see the Duke of Sussex as their governor-general. More than 60% of Canadians from all age groups approved of the idea, he said. Even in the French-speaking and often anti-monarchist province of Quebec, the idea was backed by 47% of the population.
While it’s unlikely the duke and duchess will embrace a royal functionary role in Canada, they hired Article, a boutique Toronto firm to build their independent website, SussexRoyal.com and show the world their new image. It is divided into three sections with three messages — “Supporting Community” through personal engagement; “Serving the Monarchy” by supporting their foundations; and “Strengthening the Commonwealth” of 53 countries united by their links to the old British empire.
“I’m happy we could create something special for them,” said Ryan Sax, founder of Article.
A more restrained press
Canadians, including the media, have a reputation for respecting privacy not always observed by Britain’s tabloid press. This was evident during the couple’s stay in Victoria — not one news photo was taken or published even though Victoria’s newspaper, the Times Colonist, admitted knowing where they were staying nearby.
Jason Bartholomew, a director of The BKS Agency in London, England thinks the duchess devised their compromise plan that takes them to a Commonwealth country like Canada rather than her home in America.
And by maintaining some royal connection and signaling their desire for financial self-sufficiency, they avoid being compared to either the Duke of Windsor, who never found a role after giving up the throne in 1936, or a Canadian version of Grace Kelly, who married into Monaco’s royal family.
Should Meghan give birth while in Canada, that would place a Canadian in line for the throne of England. The last time something like that happened, Canada gave away part of a hospital.
In 1940, Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her two small daughters fled to Canada following the German invasion of her country. Three years later, she was pregnant, and her child was about to make history as the first royal baby born in North America.
To ensure the baby remained in line for the Dutch throne, the Canadian government declared Juliana’s four-room hospital suite at Ottawa’s Civic Hospital “extraterritorial” or international territory.
After the war, the princess sent 100,000 tulips to be planted outside the hospital as an expression of gratitude.
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