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Prince Philip and Canada: Decades of duty

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — Prince Philip, who died today at age 99, had a fondness for Canada, joining his wife the Queen on most of her trips and taking many his own, visiting the country more frequently than any other member of the Royal Family.

“There’s probably no member of the Royal Family that visited here more frequently and consistently,” said CTV royal commentator Richard Berthelsen, who worked as an adviser for royal visits from 1978 to 2013. “He was very committed to Canada.”

Phillip visited Canada more than 20 times with his wife Queen Elizabeth II and travelled here by himself 46 times, usually as a patron to various philanthropic causes, which demonstrated his devotion to the monarchy and the Queen, said Berthelsen.

“It’s a sense of his dedication to duty,” he said of the Duke’s time in Canada. He joined the Queen on many of her 22 official visits since succeeding to the throne — and even before then. During his first visit in 1951 with then-princess Elizabeth, the Duke and his wife square danced at the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa. In 1959, they travelled the entire country over six weeks, visiting every province and territory. The trip was officially dubbed a “royal tour” instead of visit, to show that the Queen wasn’t just stopping in and was “equally at home in all her realms.”

Much of his fondness for the country showed through his close relationship with the Canadian Armed Forces, receiving 11 honourary appointments across every branch of Canada’s military, and serving as honorary Colonel-in-Chief for six Canadian units. Philip, who joined the British Royal Navy at age 18, would maintain those friendships behind closed doors even when his official trips ended in 2013.

His last trip to Toronto, dedicated to presenting a ceremonial flag to the Royal Canadian Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, came after many health scares and, as such, was billed as a private working visit and only lasted a few days. But Philip’s remarks seemed to capture his affection for the Canadian military, noting that though he “regretted” the circumstances that prevented him from seeing more of the battalion in past years, he “followed closely” the fortunes of all three battalions with “great interest and admiration.”

“As I’ve come to expect after many years as Colonel-In-Chief your record is impeccable, whether at home or in deployment abroad,” he said during the 2013 event held on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of York.

Soldiers from the regiment say Phillip was much more than a ceremonial figurehead to them.

“He’s seen a tremendous number of the members of the regiment and every one that he sees, you know, it becomes an important part of their life,” Ret. Col. Joe Aitchison, former Colonel of the Regiment of the Royal Canadian Regiment, said.

In fact, it was Phillip’s own military service that brought him to Canada for the first time, while serving aboard HMS Valiant where he spent a brief period of shore leave in Halifax. Philip also made his first speeches on Canadian soil during the 1951 royal tour with the Queen.

Speaking to the Toronto Board of Trade, he said, “In the British Isles, the Canadian army will always be remembered for the security they gave when invasion threatened and the gallantry displayed in the fighting in Italy and North Europe. I can speak from personal experience as I was serving in a destroyer off the beaches at Sicily when the Canadian division landed there in 1943.”

But Philip’s visits to Canada weren’t without controversy.

During the 1959 tour, at a reception the Duke understood as private, he made an “off-the-cuff” remark that the Palace was considering replacing large royal tours with small regional visits, musing that the big royal tours had outlived their usefulness. The remark was quoted in several papers, and they held no more such receptions on the rest of the tour.

A visit in 1969 made headlines for another public controversy. At an Ottawa press conference, he spoke of the state of the monarchy in Canada, saying that it exists for the people, not the royals.

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