By Michael Tutton
Canadians rose early on Monday to watch Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral service in groups or at home, saying they felt a sense of history occurring before their eyes.
Canada’s longest-serving head of state died on Sept. 8 at her holiday home of Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands at the age of 96, setting off 10 days of national mourning in the United Kingdom.
While some Canadians made the trip to London to pay their respects, many took in the early-morning proceedings from their residences or local viewing parties.
Const. Tad Milmine, a member of the Calgary police force, travelled to the British capital to observe the funeral procession, saying he felt “overwhelmed” during the two minutes of silence when a hush fell over the crowd of tens of thousands he was standing with outside Buckingham Palace.
“All you could hear was the birds chirping … You could just sense how much the queen was loved here and around the world,” he said in a telephone interview.
About 6,000 kilometres to the west, in Yellowknife, Marie York-Condon arose at 4 a.m. local time to begin watching what she referred to as a “monumental historical event” that reminded her of when she swore allegiance to the queen as a civilian member of the RCMP.
York-Condon said she wanted to honour a queen who had served Canada well, adding she felt strong emotions as the casket entered Westminster Abbey. “I’m very affected by the fact that the person I dedicated my service to is no longer there,” she said.
Joe Young, a Halifax resident, said he didn’t experience personal sadness as he watched the ceremony, but had a sense he was observing an important occasion where religion and politics were “rolled into one.”
Young, a 67-year-old retiree who worked in the aviation industry, said that while he isn’t a strong monarchist, he admired the queen’s dedication to duty.
“As a Christian trying to figure out the way in the modern world, (the queen) lived a faithful life,” said Young, who is active in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Taylor watched with about 30 guests at the Burgundy Lion Pub in Montreal as tea and coffee were served along with scones and sweets beginning at about 5 a.m. local time.
The 27-year-old federal public servant had the day off work and wanted to mark the occasion in a distinct way, adding she is “not religious” and didn’t feel a connection to the religious liturgy.
“I don’t feel I have super strong emotions. It was just enjoyable to feel that you’re watching a part of history happening,” she said.
Mike Lau, A British national who grew up in Hong Kong, said it didn’t feel appropriate to take in such a major event alone at home looking at his laptop screen.
Instead, he donned all black and headed to a Toronto pub to be surrounded by fellow mourners as they sipped tea and watched the procession on television.
“The queen is pretty much everywhere. Not only on the coins and the bills, but all the places that are named after the queen,” said the 25-year-old. “Once she passed away, it felt like the loss of a beloved grandma.”
In Antigonish, N.S., Barry MacKenzie, who teaches history at St. Francis Xavier University, gathered with his wife, children and an aunt and uncle for the entire funeral broadcast.
He said he connected with the grief of the Royal Family, as it reminded him that his own father’s funeral took place less than a year ago.
“You hearken back to how you felt at those particular times (of grieving) and you feel a kinship,” said MacKenzie, 37.
The funeral, which was attended by a Canadian delegation led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and included involvement from the RCMP, started at the Abbey at 6 a.m. ET, and concluded about an hour later as the casket was carried out and processed through the streets of London.
Milmine said he flew to the funeral on a hunch that he wanted to be there in person to experience the emotions of the event, and he wasn’t disappointed.
“I’m grateful to be here … To be here it brings it all home and makes you realize: She is gone, we have lost our queen.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2022.
— With files from Adina Bresge in Toronto.
Banner image via The Canadian Press