Charming, curious, inquisitive
King Charles has made five visits to Manitoba
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It was a frigid day on the snow-covered shore of Hudson Bay as the future king chatted with a dogsled driver.
The setting was the fort built so the British could maintain their grip on the fur trade.
To Prince Charles, the visit to Fort Prince of Wales near Churchill in late April 1996 was a treat.
“He was very interested in Fort Prince of Wales because that was his title,” said Gary Filmon, premier at the time who hosted the royal at Manitoba’s northern seaport.
The entourage went to see the belugas next, but the future king was disappointed.
“My only regret, as far as this morning was concerned, was that I — as usual — seem to have chosen the wrong time of the year to come,” he told hundreds of spectators shivering outside the legislature later that day. “Because there was not a single solitary sign of a polar bear or a beluga whale. And being Prince of Wales, I feel particularly responsible for them,” the Free Press quoted him as saying.
The premier and his wife, Janice Filmon, hosted a large dinner at the legislature later that evening.
“I found him absolutely charming during my time with him,” Gary Filmon said.
“His reputation isn’t as an outgoing friendly person, but he was when we saw him. He has a broad range of interests — environmental issues, architecture — and he is a great conversationalist and can meet you on all levels.
Janice Filmon, who has been Manitoba’s lieutenant governor for seven years, said it “was one of the best dinner conversations I’ve ever had.”
The trip to Manitoba was one of five made by the royal, who became King Charles after the death of Queen Elizabeth on Thursday.
His first visit was when he was 21, with Queen Elizabeth, his father Prince Philip, and his sister, Princess Anne, during the province’s centennial year in 1970. His last visit was in 2014.
In 1975, Charles made a quick overnight stop while travelling between the Northwest Territories and Florida, to join the crew on a Royal Naval ship. A dinner was held at Government House in the evening. He also came to Winnipeg in 1979.
Dwight MacAulay was the province’s chief of protocol for almost two decades and during that time he met Queen Elizabeth several times, other members of her family, and Charles.
“He visited Manitoba twice during my time and I was fortunate to work on the visits. During his last visit, he was here with Camilla and both took part in an Order of Manitoba ceremony.
“I hope he comes here as King, but time will tell,” he said Friday.
Andre Lewis, artistic director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, said he first met Charles during a performance by the company in London in 1992.
“He came backstage and he was introduced to us all,” Lewis said.
“I was associate artistic director then and I was in the line. John Meehan was the artistic director and he said, ‘This is Andre Lewis, our associate artistic director,” and (Charles) said, “Oh, you’re the one who does all the work.” John laughed.”
Lewis said he has a positive impression of Charles.
“He is very cordial. He is also curious and inquisitive. He saw Anne of Green Gables at the time and he asked everyone what they do.”
Lewis has also met Camilla, the Queen Consort.
“I escorted her on a tour of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 2014,” he said. “She watched some of the professional division students and also a company rehearsal. At the time, we were getting ready for Handmaid’s Tale. I remember showing her the costumes in the wardrobe, and I said to her we might be bringing it to England and she said, “Please let me know, I would love to see it.”
But it never happened.
“We might still try to work it out now that she is going to be elevated. Maybe she will sponsor us a tour,” Lewis said laughing.
As Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor, Janice Filmon now represents King Charles, until she retires in a few weeks.
“I haven’t adjusted yet that I represent the King now,” she said.
“It has been such an honour and a privilege to be the Queen’s representative in Manitoba.”
Filmon has met with the Queen in both her position as lieutenant-governor, joined by her husband, and years earlier when her husband was a politician.
She said even the Queen noted that uniqueness.
“We were in her private quarters in Buckingham Palace,” Filmon said. “We had a really intimate time with her. She was very knowledgeable of us. She asked if it was common for the wife of a premier to become a lieutenant governor and I said no it wasn’t, I’m the only one.”
During that visit, the Filmons presented her with a photograph of her father, King George VI, giving a radio broadcast speech to the Commonwealth inside Manitoba’s Government House.
“She hadn’t seen it before,” Filmon said. “She really took an interest in it. We also gave her a bottle of the award-winning Crown Royal and she said, “My husband will like that.”
Filmon recalled during her first meeting with the Queen — a 1984 dinner in Manitoba hosted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney — the Queen pulled a hook-like device from her purse.
“I sat beside her at the head table and she put a little device on the table, which had a hook, to hold her purse under the table so it wouldn’t touch the floor. I had never seen that then.”
Brian Bailey’s parents hosted Queen Elizabeth, her husband Prince Philip, Charles and Anne, during a two-day stop midway through the Royal Family’s cross-province tour in 1970.
Bailey said decades after the informal meetings on his family’s farm he believes Charles has been treated unjustly.
“He was only 21 when I talked to him, but we found him to be very friendly and chatty. The whole family is so well versed with being comfortable with people.”
Joe Barnsley, honorary consul for the United Kingdom for the last 15 years, hasn’t met members of the Royal Family. His job is to help people from the United Kingdom when they are in Manitoba, including if they get injured.
Barnsley said his personal view is that while Queen Elizabeth will be known in history as “the greatest monarch,”Charles will also be a good King.
“I’m sure we would be saying the same things about him if he’d reigned for 70 years,” he said. “I have no doubt he will be an excellent, good person, for the people in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the world.
“I know his mother would have trained him well.”
Ballet keeps royal title
Entities such as the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench will have to change their name to the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench, but the Royal Winnipeg Ballet will stay the same.
Lewis said the “royal” in the company’s name continues to be a great honour almost seven decades after Queen Elizabeth gave permission for it.
Things obviously moved quicker back in 1953: the copy of the letter from the Queen in the RWB archives — the original is in the Manitoba Archives — grants permission on Jan. 31, 1953, noting the request came from the Winnipeg Ballet days earlier on Jan. 22.
“It can be ‘God Save the King’ or ‘God Save the King’ and we are still the Royal Winnipeg Ballet,” Lewis said.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.