Featurette: When royalty came to campus

Prince Charles and Princess Diana's visit to Queen’s in 1991

Prince Charles and Princess Diana signing the Royal guest book.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana signing the Royal guest book.
Supplied by Queen's Archives

Since Queen Victoria signed the Royal Charter for ‘Queen’s College at Kingston’ 175 years ago, the campus has been host to royal guests on nearly 20 different occasions.

While reigning British Monarch Queen Elizabeth II has visited Kingston on more than five occasions over the course of her reign, the most anticipated visit from the Windsor family was that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in the fall of 1991.

The planning for Queen’s most iconic royal visit was well underway by June 1985. The University Senate passed a motion in agreement that they “invite the Prince and Princess of Wales to accept Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Laws on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter to Queen’s University by Queen Victoria.”

The appendix of the Senate minutes from April 24, 1991 reads, “The University was informed last Friday that it was highly probable that their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Wales will be visiting Queen’s on October 28th, 1991 to mark the sesquicentennial celebrations.”

Amidst the whirlwind of marriage difficulty rumours and their third Canadian tour as a couple — with William and Harry in tow — the royal couple travelled to Kingston in October 1991 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the royal charter that founded Queen’s. “There was no indication that something was going on [with their marriage]. It was very idyllic,” Queen’s historian Duncan McDowall said.

During their visit to Kingston, the two received honorary law degrees and presented a replica of the Royal Charter signed by Queen Victoria in 1841.  “[The ceremony] was the crowning moment of their tour. It was a charming visit, [Diana] was gorgeous. She was right out of the storybooks,” McDowall said.

According to an October 29, 1991 Journal article, “everywhere the Prince and Princess of Wales went yesterday, they were greeted with people crowding the barricades hoping to catch a glimpse, or more, of the [sic] England’s next King and Queen.”

When visiting the JDUC, the Prince of Wales said, “I have to say that Queen’s is one of the friendliest universities I’ve been to in a long while.”

Upon receiving his honorary degree, Prince Charles embarked on an acceptance speech that praised Canada as a nation rich in cultural diversity that he looked upon with “envy and admiration,” according to The Journal archives. “The world, in short, needs Canada,” Prince Charles said.

But not everyone was excited to see the royal family.

A nearby group of Mohawk protestors held signs that read: “100 years of suffering at the hands of the white oppressor”. Members of the Eight Ball Justice Collectors waved black flags in protest of the royal visit.

Most protestors expressed a general discontent toward the concept and tradition of British monarchy.

One student protestor told The Journal “people say [the Royal Visit] is a celebration of our history. But we shouldn’t be celebrating a history of oppression and subjugation.”

While both Queen’s and Kingston have distinctly royal roots and numerous connections to the British monarchy, a late 1980s revision of the traditional convocation ceremony further secularized the University.

Though many of the University’s royal and religious practices have been excised in favour of less religious traditions, the ‘God Save the Queen’ rendition performed at convocation ceremonies is reminiscent of both Queen’s founding and the most iconic royal visit in our history.

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