Canada A Constitutional Monarchy
Since 1534, when the King of France claimed possession of what is now Canada, the history of our country has been marked by the reigns of an uninterrupted succession of monarchs, both French and British, who have had a significant influence on our country's development.
Under the Crown, Canada developed first as a colony of two empires, originally the French and subsequently the British, then as an independent dominion, and now as an entirely sovereign nation. The Crown occupies a central place in our Parliament and our democracy, founded on the rule of law and respect for rights and freedoms; the Crown embodies the continuity of the state and is the underlying principle of its institutional unity. The Crown heads all three branches of government: the Executive, where the Prime Minister is the principal advisor; the Legislative, which recognizes the Crown as one of three constituents of Parliament, acting with the consent of the Senate and the House of Commons; and the Judiciary, since all decisions made by the courts are given in the name of the Queen.
The most important characteristic of Canada's constitutional monarchy has been its ability to adapt to changing conditions over the course of our evolution from colony to nation. In the Senate foyer and the Salon de la Francophonie, hang the portraits of the kings and queens in whose names our laws have been, and continue to be, enacted.
King of France from 1515 to 1547
Portrait* after Titian, circa 1820
François I was the first King of France to encourage explorers to lead expeditions to the NewWorld. In 1533, he signed a treaty with Spain and Portugal that gave France the right to navigate in all unmapped territories. Particularly interested in the quest for a route to China, François I personally financed the voyage of Jacques Cartier, a sea captain from Saint-Malo. In April 1534, Cartier landed in Gaspé, where he was welcomed by the region's Aboriginal people, and took possession of Canada in the name of the King. Initial attempts by the French at settling in Québec (1541–43) were unsuccessful. The severe winters decimated the settlers until the Aboriginal peoples came to their rescue. In September 1543, the first Viceroy of Canada, Jean-François de la Roque, Sieur de Roberval, returned to France. A direct passage to China remained undiscovered.
King of France from 1574 to 1589
Portrait*: School of François Clouet, circa 1580
During his 15-year reign, Henry III supported several initiatives aimed at asserting sovereignty over New France. In March 1577, a royal edict granted Troilus de Mesgouez, a Breton nobleman, a mandate to “appropriate in the name of the King of France the new lands [of Canada] and to build fortresses to be occupied under his protection.” A second edict, signed January 3, 1578, appointed de Mesgouez “our governor, Lieutenant general and Viceroy of the said new lands and countries that he will take and conquer . . .” De Mesgouez became the second Viceroy of Canada. However, his efforts to fulfill the King’s ambitions fell short of success.
Despite these setbacks, Henry III persisted in encouraging the exploration and development of his new world territories. In 1588, he granted Jacques Noël, the nephew of Jacques Cartier, privileges over fishing, fur trading and mining in New France. De Mesgouez was reconfirmed as Viceroy in 1598 by the new king, Henry IV.
King of France and Navarre from 1589 to 1610
Bronze effigy* after Barthélemy Tremblay, circa 1830
Henry IV, despite the disapproval of his ministers, most notably the Duc de Sully, decided to finance out of his own resources an expedition by Pierre Du Gua de Monts and Samuel Champlain. They planned to establish a colony on an island they named Île Sainte-Croix. In 1604, this settlement became the first permanent colony of French immigrants in Canada, and so Acadia was born. In 1608, Champlain established another colony, on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River at a place called Québec, which later became the capital of New France, or Canada. An experienced cartographer, Champlain explored the interior and the east coast of the continent, up to the Great Lakes and along the coast of what is now New England. He defended the interests of the colony before the King and made the colony his adoptive home. As well, Champlain understood that successful settlement would be impossible for the new Canadians without the support of the Aboriginals. He signed peace agreements with them and took part in their expeditions. In recognition of his achievements Champlain is called “the father of New France.”
King of France and Navarre from 1610 to 1643
Portrait*: Studio of Philippe de Champaigne, circa 1630
Louis XIII, son of Henry IV, consolidated France's position as a sea power by building a strong navy. His policy as far as Canada was concerned consisted of organizing the administration of New France. On the initiative of Cardinal Richelieu, the King gave the Compagnie des Cent-Associés exclusive rights to the fur trade, on condition that it settle 200 to 300 French colonists along the Saint Lawrence River every year, starting in 1628. Settlement was slow, however. Relations with the Aboriginal peoples deteriorated and a war of skirmishes kept the colony in a state of alert. In 1629, the Kirke Brothers, supported by England, captured Québec. The colonies in Canada were returned to France under the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, signed on March 29, 1632, by Charles I and Louis XIII. In 1642, Maisonneuve and a group of devout Catholics founded the settlement of Ville-Marie, which later became the city of Montréal.
King of France and Navarre from 1643 to 1715
Portrait*: Studio of Hyacinthe Rigaud, circa 1700
Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, succeeded to the throne at the age of five. Quite early on, in 1659, he personally undertook responsibility for the development of New France. He appointed Jean Talon as the colony's intendant, and promised to send him 800 colonists every year and to increase the colony's budget out of the royal treasury. In 1663, Louis XIV entrusted the administration of domestic affairs in New France to a sovereign council made up of the governor, the bishop and five councillors.
In 1664, Louis XIV decreed that the judicial system known as the Custom of Paris was to be the system of civil law for New France. Some two centuries later, in 1866, on the eve of Confederation, this legal system was codified as the Québec Civil Code. He founded the Ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Louis in April 1693 and granted it to more than 250 residents of New France. In 1701, the Great Peace of Montréal was signed in the King's name with the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy to end the incessant fighting with the Aboriginal nations. In April 1713, Louis XIV signed the Treaty of Utrecht, under which he surrendered a great portion of Acadia to Great Britain in return for the Spanish throne for his grandson, the Prince Royal.
King of France from 1715 to 1774
Portrait*: Studio of Carle Van Loo, circa 1740
Louis XV, like his great-grandfather, Louis XIV, became king at the age of five. Although France at the time exercised far-reaching cultural influence in Europe, its monarchy was deeply in debt and gradually losing hold of the French colonial empire in North America. Developing and defending the colonies was a serious drain on the royal treasury. The cost of maintaining the fortress of Louisbourg, in Nova Scotia, was very high. In 1755, Pierre de Rigaud de Cavagnal, marquis de Vaudreuil, was appointed Governor of New France, the first Canadian-born person to occupy the position. Louisbourg fell into the hands of British troops in 1758, never to be recovered. Between 1755 and 1763, with tacit approval from London, the order was given to deport over 15 000 Acadians living in the Maritimes. As Louis XV was losing his influence over the affairs of government, the colonies in Canada had few influential advocates at court. His ministers committed France to a series of European conflicts that culminated in the Seven Years War and the loss of the Canadian colonies in 1760. During a decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham, both opposing generals, Montcalm and Wolfe, lost their lives. Under the Treaty of Paris signed on February 10, 1763, by England, France, Spain and Portugal, France definitively surrendered the Canadian colonies to Britain. It was the end of France's colonial empire in North America.
King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820
Portrait: Studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, circa 1779
Once Canada became a British possession, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized the Aboriginal peoples' rights as the first inhabitants and granted them royal protection. During the reign of George III, Britain had to cope with the American Revolution and the independence of the United States in 1783. Two leaders of the American Revolution, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, urged Canadians to rise up as well, but they refused. The American army then attempted to take Canada in 1775, under Generals Montgomery and Arnold. With the crucial support of the French Canadians and the Aboriginal peoples, the invasion was driven back. Thousands of Americans who wished to remain faithful to the King (“Loyalists”) took refuge in British North America, thereby markedly increasing the population of the Maritimes and of Upper and Lower Canada. The Québec Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1774, recognized among other things that French Canadians were entitled to their language, their civil law and their religion. The Constitutional Act of 1791 granted to both Upper and Lower Canada an elected House of Assembly. The use of French was also recognized in the debates of the Assembly of Lower Canada. In 1794, the Assembly of Upper Canada outlawed slavery, 40 years before Westminster abolished slavery throughout the British colonies.
In 1812, when the American Congress declared war on Britain, a second attempt was made to invade Canada, this time via the Great Lakes and the border with Québec. This attack was driven back by Major-General Isaac Brock, Lieutenant-Colonel Michel de Salaberry (leading the Voltigeurs, a French Canadian militia), and Tecumseh, Chief of the Shawnee, with Aboriginal support.
In the Treaty of Ghent, signed on December 24, 1814, Canada and the United States officially recognized their pre-war borders. Despite their differences in origins, languages and religions, the inhabitants of Canada fought together to defend their country.
N.B.: The portrait of George III was purportedly donated by the King to thank the Canadian people for their loyalty.
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1820 to 1830
Portrait*: Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1822
During the reign of George IV, who
succeeded his father George III
in 1820, Upper and Lower Canada experienced a period of peace, exploration and development that saw the creation of a significant number of institutions, including banks and universities, such as McGill University in Montréal and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Ambitious public projects were carried out, like the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, the Lachine Canal in Montréal, the city of Québec fortifications and the Church of Notre-Dame in Montréal. The population of Lower Canada reached 480 000, that of Upper Canada 158 000. In 1829, Westminster adopted the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act, the so-called “Tolerance Act,” but in Canada, freedom of religion for Catholics had been recognized long before, in 1774.
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1830 to 1837
Portrait*: Engraving by Frederick Christian Lewis, 1831, from a drawing by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1827
William IV, the third son of George III, became the first member of the royal family to visit Canada. He came in 1786, at the age of 21, while serving as a captain in the Royal Navy. In 1830, he succeeded his brother, George IV. In 1831, Parliament of Lower Canada extended to Jews the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the majority of voters. Full emancipation for Jews, in Great Britain, was not achieved before 1858. William IV's reign was marked by a fundamental change of the electoral system in Great Britain, when the Great Reform Act, 1832, extended the right to vote to a substantial portion of the middle classes. This reform had a decisive influence on Canada's political evolution. Rebellion broke out in 1837, led in Upper Canada by William Lyon Mackenzie, and in Lower Canada by Louis-Joseph Papineau. Both these popular movements sought to free the Houses of Assembly from the grip of the governor and his councillors, and to take real control of the government and of the management of public funds for the benefit of the people. The British army had to intervene in order to restore order. The Constitution was suspended and the leaders of the rebellion found refuge and support in the United States.
Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to 1901
Portrait by John Partridge, 1842
Victoria succeeded her uncle, William IV, when she was only 18. Her father, the Duke of Kent, had lived in Canada from 1791 to 1801, stationed at the city of Québec garrison as commander of the Royal Fusiliers. The Queen took a personal interest in the affairs of her North American colonies. The Act of Union, which united Upper and Lower Canada in the Province of Canada following the report by Lord Durham on the Rebellions of 1837, received royal assent in 1840. The act, however, did not recognize the use of French in the new united legislative assembly and this led to a long period of debate and tension that undermined the stability of successive governments, in which power was shared by the two language groups. In 1848, the Governor General of Canada, Lord Elgin, recognized the principle of responsible government. In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as Canada's capital. In 1864, first in Charlottetown, and then in the city of Québec, representatives of the Maritime colonies and of the Province of Canada met to lay the foundation for a permanent union of the colonies. They were particularly concerned about the civil war that had broken out in the United States and about the imperative need to share resources in order to develop the country.
The new constitution, the British North America Act, received royal assent from Queen Victoria on March 29, 1867, and came into effect on July 1. The Fathers of Confederation designed the first federal system in which the Crown was equally represented in two levels of government, federal and provincial, each independent of the other. This pragmatic and original approach demonstrated how, under one monarch, both legislative authorities could act as they deemed fit within their jurisdiction. Making up the new federation were Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. From the start, English and French were recognized as official languages in the Parliament of Canada. In 1870, Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory joined Confederation as the Northwest Territories. Manitoba also joined in 1870, followed by British Columbia in 1871 and Prince Edward Island in 1873, the same year Canada's first police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was established. The Arctic Islands in Canada's North, then under British rule, came under Canadian jurisdiction in 1880. In 1885, the Métis Rebellion, led by Louis Riel, broke out in the West, and the federal government had to deal with an armed conflict. The issue of separate schools in Manitoba followed, dividing francophones and anglophones. In 1898, the Yukon Territory was given the same status as the Northwest Territories. When the Boer War broke out in South Africa in 1899, Canada, as part of the British Empire, contributed for the first time a contingent of Canadian soldiers which was integrated into the British Army.
N.B.: This portrait was saved from fire four times: twice when Parliament was in Montréal in 1849, once when Parliament was in the city of Québec in 1854, and again when the Parliament buildings burned down in Ottawa in 1916.
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,
and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas from 1901 to 1910
Portrait by Luke Fildes, originally painted in 1903
The future Edward VII came to Canada in 1860 as Prince of Wales, and laid the cornerstone of the original Parliament buildings. In 1901, Canada established its own Royal Mint to strike coins. That same year, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, the future George V and Queen Mary, visited Canada. The last non-Canadian to hold the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Army left the country in 1904. Alberta and Saskatchewan became the eighth and ninth provinces in 1905, effectively confirming the union of the West with the young dominion and opening the Prairie provinces to immigration and development. Just a year before, in 1904, 135 000 immigrants had arrived; in 1911, the number was 308 000; and in 1913, the number reached 400 000 who mainly settled in the West. In 1909, the Department of External Affairs was created to ensure that Canada would have its own voice in international diplomacy. In 1910, a bill was introduced in Parliament creating the Royal Canadian Navy.
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,
and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas from 1910 to 1936
Portrait by Luke Fildes, originally painted in 1913
The reign of George V was dominated by the First World War and the economic crisis of the 1930s. As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada went to war alongside the rest of the Empire on August 4, 1914. In the Great War, 60 000 Canadians lost their lives and 200 000 were wounded. When the war ended, Canada claimed the right to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 on its own authority. It was also a founding member of the League of Nations in 1920. In 1919, the Governor-General-in-Council submitted an order to the King requesting that Canadians cease to receive British titles. In 1921, George V granted Canada with its own coat of arms, including the maple leaf as a symbol of the country and red and white as its official colours. In 1923, Canada signed the Halibut Treaty with the United States, the first treaty signed without Great Britain acting as intermediary. In 1924, the Red Ensign “with the Shield of the Coat of Arms of Canada in the fly” was recognized as Canada's flag. At the 1926 Imperial Conference in London, the British Dominions agreed to form the British Commonwealth on the basis of their political equality vis-à-vis Britain, an approach that was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. In 1927, the Canadian government began direct contact with the British government, rather than through the Governor General. In 1935, the Bank of Canada was established as the government's central bank. At the same time, the Depression opened the way to social measures intended to safeguard the well-being of all Canadians.
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas from January to December 1936
Portrait*: Photolithograph by Carl Vandyk, 1936, London (from a photograph taken in 1922)
While still Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII saw service in Flanders during the First World War with, among other units, the Canadian Expeditionary Corps. During his first visit to Canada in 1919, the Prince laid the cornerstone of the Peace Tower, part of the new Parliament rebuilt after the fire of 1916. Charmed by the landscape of the West and by the independent spirit of its inhabitants, he bought a ranch in Pekisko, Alberta. The Prince stayed there on a number of occasions, being the only monarch thus far to own personal property in Canada. Under his short reign — from January 20, 1936, to December 10 of the same year — Canada signed a trade treaty with the United States, and the Bank of Canada issued the first bilingual banknotes. In July 1936, the King inaugurated the Canadian National Memorial on Vimy Ridge in France, in honour of the 60 000 Canadian soldiers who died during the First World War.
Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother Albert, who was crowned as George VI.
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,
and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas from 1936 to 1952
Portrait after Sir Gerald F. Kelly by Robert Swan 1955
Scarcely three months before the start of the Second World War in 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, toured Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. George VI thus became the first reigning monarch to set foot on Canadian soil. While in Ottawa, the King gave royal assent to a number of bills in the Senate and unveiled the National War Memorial, and the Queen laid the cornerstone of the new Supreme Court building.
Canada officially entered the Second World War in September 1939, a few days after Britain, following a short debate in Parliament. Conscription was imposed in 1942 after a national referendum that deeply divided the country. Almost 10 percent of the Canadian population, or 1 100 000 people, served in the war effort in uniform. With the outbreak of war, the royal regalia, including Saint Edward's Crown, the Imperial State Crown and the sceptre, as well as Great Britain's financial reserves, were secretly kept safe in Canada.
Canada became a member of the United Nations in 1945. The following year, the first Canadian citizenship legislation was passed, recognizing the primacy of Canadian citizenship over the status of British subject. In 1947, supplementary letters patent were issued granting the Governor General the right to exercise most of the Crown's prerogatives. That same year, George VI renounced the title of Emperor of India and became Head of the Commonwealth, thereby underlining the political independence of the former colonies and the end of the British Empire. Appeals to the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council were abolished in 1949 and the Supreme Court of Canada became the court of final appeal in all Canadian matters. That same year, following a referendum, Newfoundland joined Confederation, thereby making a reality of Canada's motto, A Mari usque ad Mare — From Sea to Sea.
Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, since 1952
Portrait by Lilias Torrance Newton, 1957
Elizabeth II became Queen on February 6, 1952. The following year, a Canadian law, the Royal Style and Titles Act, formally conferred upon her the title of Queen of Canada. As Canada's Head of State, the Queen is represented by the Governor General. Vincent Massey was the first Canadian to be appointed to this position in 1952. The Queen has demonstrated her attachment to Canada by some 22 visits here. In 1957, she became the first monarch to preside over an opening of the Canadian Parliament. In 1959, she inaugurated, with President Eisenhower, the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Georges Vanier became our first francophone Governor General in 1959. The Maple Leaf was adopted as the national flag in 1965. The Queen participated in the celebrations of the centennial of Confederation in 1967, and also became the Sovereign of the newly created Order of Canada. In 1969, Parliament adopted the Official Languages Act recognizing English and French as Canada's two official languages. The Queen proclaimed the opening of the Games of the XXI Olympiad in Montréal in 1976. The next year, following an amendment to the Citizenship Act, Canadians ceased to be British subjects. In 1980, O Canada! was recognized in law as our national anthem. On May 20, 1980, a first referendum was held in Québec to separate that province from the rest of Canada.
Two years later, on April 17, 1982, the Queen promulgated the Constitution Act, 1982, which includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, recognition of the rights of Aboriginal peoples, the multicultural character of Canadian society, and patriation of the constitutional amending powers previously reserved to the British Parliament. Patriation reaffirmed the primacy of the rule of law and the sovereignty of the Canadian people over this country's institutions and constitution. The territory of Nunavut was established in 1999. On October 12, 2003, the Governor-General-in-Council issued in Her Majesty's name a proclamation recognizing July 28 of every year as “A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval” suffered by the Acadians in 1755. As of January 2005, Letters of Credence and of Recall are to be directly addressed to the Governor General. This change was approved earlier by the Queen.
The Queen, who is fluent in both official languages, remains associated with the significant events in the life of this country and has consistently demonstrated her respect for the choices that Canadians make in shaping their future. In 2012, the country celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada.
* Portraits donated to the Canadiana Fund by the Hon. Serge Joyal, senator.