Organizing a royal tour is a demanding task to begin with, but when it involved Prince Philip, his Canadian coordinators knew to expect the unexpected.
Philip might eschew a motorcade and insist on walking. He would request local maps that he would scan in the car or aircraft en route to his next event. He wanted young people up front at meet-and-greet walkabouts with the public.
But Kevin MacLeod, former Canadian secretary to the Queen, said that paled in comparison to an unusually massive request in June 1997, when the prince suddenly insisted on breaking from a tour of Ontario to visit flood-ravaged Manitoba, which was engulfed in what became known as the flood of the century.
MacLeod, at the time a program officer on the royal tour, said Philip displayed a deep concern for residents of Ste. Agathe, Man., and the surrounding area and insisted on touring the flood zone the next day.
MacLeod said that sparked a 24-hour frenzy of arranging logistics, security, medical plans and helicopters.
“He didn’t have to do that. He could have stayed in Ontario and done what we had originally planned for him but he said, ‘No, these people need support.’ And off he went. He was a very genuine, caring person,” said MacLeod, whose voice broke with emotion as he detailed Philip’s “genuine affection for Canada and Canadians.”
“It was a massive undertaking, but he was so pleased to have had that opportunity to get to Manitoba and to speak to the people. I think if you were to speak to some of those people in Ste. Agathe and other people along the flood zone, I’m sure they still fondly remember his visit.”
MacLeod was among the many dignitaries and average citizens who paid tribute to Prince Philip on Friday as flags across the country dropped to half-mast to mark the royal’s death at the age of 99.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted the Duke of Edinburgh for maintaining “a special relationship” with Canada’s Armed Forces, noting he was colonel‑in‑chief of six Canadian units, honorary general of the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force, and honorary admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy.
At the same time, he said Philip inspired millions of youth through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and supported more than 40 organizations including the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute and the Outward Bound Trust.
“I had the privilege of knowing Prince Philip almost my entire life. The first times I met him I was just a kid here in Ottawa,” Trudeau said Friday.
“Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to have a few more conversations with him, and it is a tremendous personal as well as public sorrow that we all share at his passing.”
The bells of the Peace Tower in Ottawa rang 99 times on Friday morning, while flags were dropped to half-mast at all government buildings in the country and abroad. They were set to remain lowered until sunset on the day of the funeral or the memorial service, which had yet to be determined.
Private tributes included a half-masted flag in the front yard of Barry MacKenzie’s home in Antigonish, N.S. He called it his “personal tribute to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.”
“Canadians, Britons, people all across the Commonwealth, we’re not people that dress in black mourning clothes anymore when these types of things happen,” said MacKenzie, head of the Maritime chapter of the Monarchist League of Canada.
“But there are still traditions that we can observe that offer that sign of respect and I thought that lowering the national flag was the one thing that I could do this morning.”
Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps recalled being seated beside a jovial Philip at a luncheon in Vancouver in October 2002, the day The Queen dropped a ceremonial puck at a Vancouver Canucks game.
She said that visit was key to cementing Vancouver and Whistler’s bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, recalling Philip’s assurance that Canada’s bid had the support of the Royal Family.
Copps noted there has been renewed debate over the value of the monarchy but points to this day as a reason for maintaining Commonwealth ties.
“When you have a connection through the monarchy to more than 50 countries around the world that’s one-quarter of the globe. We have a direct cousin-to-cousin relationship and that’s worth keeping,” said Copps.
“The example of the Olympics is just one example where they were actually very influential in Canada getting the Olympics.”
Tributes from federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and provincial premiers poured in throughout the day, and in Nova Scotia, the provincial legislature said on Twitter it had adjourned for the day “as a mark of respect.”
Despite Philip’s recent health woes, MacLeod said word of his death Friday was a blow to many, including “very emotional” officers from the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa he spoke to that morning.
MacLeod said the regiment had “Duke of Edinburgh’s Own” added to its name in recent years, “a huge honour.”
“He was often portrayed as a brisk or brusque, rough character, which I guess he was in some respects, but it’s that other side of him – the caring individual who spent time with people and asked questions, and showed compassion,” said MacLeod, who retired as Canadian secretary in 2017 and lives in Ottawa.
“I feel blessed that I, well, having worked with the two of them, they’re incredible.”