TORONTO — News of Prince Philip’s retirement from public life has sparked fond memories of his glamour and gaffes as Canadian royal watchers recall the visits of a man who transitioned from rebellious modern monarch to royal elder statesman while staunchly supporting dozens of causes.
Buckingham Palace released a statement Thursday saying that Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, would retire from royal duties this fall.
Philip, 95, made the decision himself with the full support of the Queen, the palace said in a statement. The royal has suffered from heart disease and other ailments in recent years but has nonetheless maintained a vigorous public schedule.
The announcement drew a tweet of congratulations from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who thanked Philip for his decades of service and wished him well in retirement. The Queen’s husband last visited Canada four years ago.
Some Canadians marvelled at Philip’s stamina for the demands of public life, which he embraced from the time he married in 1947.
Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, said Philip’s inaugural royal visit to this country took place more than 66 years ago in 1951, noting that his years in public service exceeded the retirement age for most people.
“I think we’ll still see him in public for the odd occasion here and there, but at 95 years old I think he can be proud of his service, and I think Canadians can be proud of his service to their country,” Finch said in an interview.
Philip’s first true visit to Canada came long before he became a member of the British royal family, when his career as a naval officer brought him to Halifax for a brief and routine shore leave in 1941.
On that occasion, according to royal historian Carolyn Harris, a local woman reminisced to Time Magazine that ”he looked just like any other Royal Navy midshipman. He seemed to be growing out of his uniform.”
A decade later, when Philip made his first official royal visit alongside his wife, he cut a more memorable and dashing figure.
Harris said Philip and his wife were heralded at the time as a glamorous pair of royal newlyweds with the star power and modern sensibilities to revitalize the monarchy, not unlike the way their grandson Prince William and his wife Kate were described upon their arrival in Canada in 2011.
“In the 1950’s there was very much a sense that it was the future queen and Prince Philip who were modernizing the monarchy,” she said, noting the pair’s decision to buck tradition by travelling by airplane instead of by ship, as well as pictures of Philip square-dancing in blue jeans at Rideau Hall and donning a white Stetson for the Calgary Stampede.
As his public profile increased, so did his reputation for frank talk and off-the-cuff remarks that set Philip apart from the more scripted Queen.
Some of his more notorious departures from tradition took place in Canada over the course of his more than 20 official visits, according to Harris.
During a six-week tour of the entire country in 1959, Philip made what was then considered to be a tactless speech to the Canadian Medical Association decrying lack of fitness among Canadian youth and calling for better physical education programs in schools.
A decade later, while bluntly stating his view of Canada’s relationship to the monarchy at a news conference in Ottawa, he committed what came to be seen as a major gaffe.
“I think it’s a complete misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarch — it doesn’t. It exists in the interests of the people: in a sense,” he said. “We don’t come here for our health, so to speak. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”
That same tour also prompted a line that has appeared in many compilations of his most notorious quotes.
According to the book “Royal Observations” by Canadian historians Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli, the Prince was dedicating an annex to Vancouver city hall when he made the announcement, “I declare this thing open, whatever it is.”
He later explained his flippant dedication by saying he hoped to get the event over with, since it was raining and he was speaking to a crowd of about 15 people.
But that sense of spontaneity won him plaudits from those who attended public events with him.
Finch recalls a 2010 dinner in Toronto that was marred by rolling black-outs that knocked out both the lights and the air conditioning on a sweltering summer’s day.
Philip, then 88, was not bothered by the logistical hassles that arose from the power failure, Finch recalled.
“I heard someone say to him, ‘sir, the elevators aren’t working,’ and he said, ‘well, we’ll just take the bloody stairs,’” Finch recalled. “Here’s a guy in his late 80’s, and he’s not letting the power outage or the intense heat or anything get to him. He’s just carrying on his job.”
That job entailed becoming a patron to 44 Canadian organizations, many of which focused on conservation, science or athletics.
They include the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, the Canadian Curling Association and the Outward Bound Trust.
But Philip is perhaps best known for founding the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international organization that has been promoting leadership and responsibility among youth since 1956.
“(Prince Philip) has been a great inspiration to thousands of Canadian youth,” said Rick Ashbee, national executive director of the Canadian division of the awards. “It is a testament to his vision that over the past 60 years the Duke of Edinburgh continuously inspires and elevates young participants as they emerge as talented and effective leaders.”
Philip’s final visit to Canada in 2013 also saw the long-serving royal consort achieve the country’s highest civilian honour. Gov. Gen. David Johnston made him a Companion of the Order of Canada, as well as granted him the Commander of the Order of Military Merit.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press