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Like Its 2 Royal Guests, Canada’s Most English City Reinvents Itself

Like Its 2 Royal Guests, Canada’s Most English City Reinvents Itself

VICTORIA, British Columbia — If Prince Harry ever gets lonesome for royal life while in Canada, he can always visit his great-great-great-great-grandmother, perched at a dining room table over a glass of sherry, her hair lovingly shampooed and fluffed by one of her most devoted subjects.

Until last week, Ken Lane, who once ran the Royal London Wax Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, kept Queen Victoria’s wax head in a box in his basement, stored with the heads of Elvis, Grumpy Smurf and other items from the museum, which shut down in 2010.

But after the recent arrival of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, in Victoria, Mr. Lane decided to move the figure of Queen Victoria upstairs. He spent three days getting her ready for display, coifing and styling her real human hair imported from Italy.

Wearing a crown, she now presides at his dining room table, as if in mid-conversation, with the figures of Queen Elizabeth II; Diana, Princess of Wales; and Winston Churchill. Union Jack napkins are at the ready, and multicolor Skittles are available for snacking.

Mr. Lane hopes that Harry and Meghan’s decision to retreat from their royal duties and move to Canada will nourish a renewed fascination with the British royals, and that his collection of 350 wax figures will then find a new home.

“Meghan and Harry are popular royals, and I feel sorry for what they’ve been through,” said Mr. Lane, past chairman of the Victoria branch of the Monarchist League of Canada, which works to support Canada’s constitutional monarchy. Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is the country’s head of state.

Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, has long marketed itself as Canada’s most English city. It is peppered with Tudor Revival architecture, pubs with names like “the Churchill” and specialty shops selling marmalade jam. Until 1950, its police officers wore bobby-style helmets.

Some residents, like Mr. Lane, have clung proudly to this image of Victoria. The city was established as a British trading post in 1843, before it became the seat of British Columbia’s government and a popular destination for retirees and honeymooners.

But increasingly shaped by a wave of new immigrants, a growing high-tech sector and a mayor who refused to pledge the traditional oath of allegiance to the queen, the picturesque city no longer aspires to be a “little piece of Old England.”

In many ways, said John Adams, 70, a local historian and city guide, the makeover of Victoria is not unlike the rebranding its newest and most famous residents are attempting.

“Harry and Meghan are a contemporary couple trying to break with tradition, and that is perhaps why they resonate so much here in Victoria,” Mr. Adams said. “Like them, this city is trying to bring an old past into the future.”

Harry and Meghan, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are reportedly ensconced in an 18 million Canadian dollars, or nearly $14 million, French-inspired eight-bedroom beachfront estate on Vancouver Island, where they spent their Christmas vacation. Their presence has been greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm, curiosity and studied indifference.

But such is the overall interest generated by the royal couple’s decision to move to Canada’s westernmost province, that the CBC, the Canadian broadcaster, issued an etiquette guide for would be royal-spotters that reads like a how-to from the parks authority for engaging with wildlife.

“Never touch a royal,” the guide sternly warns, citing a royal expert. If presented to the couple, bow or curtsy. “Treat them like cats,” it adds. “Let them come to you.”

Lawyers representing the couple have threatened legal action against the British media after reporters hiding in bushes took photos of a beaming duchess walking with her son, Archie, in a public park near their rented home.

Local residents, though, appear determined to leave them alone.

A water taxi captain was feted as a local hero for refusing to bring a Japanese television crew to visit the property. On a recent day outside the estate, at the end of the long narrow road leading to the property, two security men with British accents came outside and barked at curious journalists to stay away.

Not everyone is thrilled by the duke and duchess’s arrival and even Mr. Lane is irked by their royal mutiny.

“We are not amused,” he said, using a quote attributed to Queen Victoria to express his disappointment with the couple’s decision to step back from the Crown, which sent shudders through his tight-knit monarchist fraternity.

Opinion on the royal couple was divided on a recent day during high tea, a popular ritual at the imposing and luxurious Empress Hotel, which was opened in 1908, and boasts vaulted ceilings and Bengal tiger head furnishings that hark back to the British Raj.

Sitting among a large group of female friends, wearing fascinators befitting a royal wedding as they sipped tea and devoured tiny egg and cucumber sandwiches, Christina Yee, a human resources manager, said she was “drawn to the mystery of what it’s like to be a princess or prince.”

But Rebecca Bertrand, who works in sales and whose mother is British, lamented that the royal couple’s presence could raise local property prices. “No one wants paparazzi here,” she added.

Pritam Sunger, the high tea hostess, offered a practical view. “I love that they are here,” she said. “It’s good for tourism and the economy.”

Jordana Burnes, a Vancouver native who also works in sales, had this to say: “I could really care less.”

One person who is not obsessing about the royals is Victoria’s mayor, Lisa Helps, a left-leaning historian who is passionate about pushing for affordable housing, raising chickens and fighting inequality.

The mayor, who was first elected as an independent in 2014, has drawn opprobrium from royalists like Mr. Lane because she refused to swear an oath to the queen. Mr. Lane called that “childish” and “churlish.”

In Canada, representatives at the provincial and federal level pledge allegiance to the queen but mayors in British Columbia aren’t required to do so.

In not swearing the oath, Ms. Helps said she had been protesting the subjugation of Indigenous people by the city’s former British colonial masters.

“I have deep respect for the British bones of this city,” she said, over breakfast at a hip downtown cafe, adding that she would be delighted to welcome Prince Harry and Meghan to City Hall. But, “to me such an oath is an anachronism.”

The city, she stressed, was no longer a throwback to the British Empire, nor the place some British Columbians have mocked as home of “the newly wed and the nearly dead.”

Instead, she said, 21st-century Victoria was a place of Indigenous cultural affirmation, green-friendly bike lanes, artificial intelligence companies, and immigration from countries with few ties to the Crown, like China or Brazil.

In Mr. Lane’s living room, though, “God Save The Queen” was blaring. His House of Windsor-themed room is decorated with commemorative tea towels of Harry and Meghan’s 2018 wedding and cushions festooned with corgis, Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite dogs.

He lamented that Victoria had been hijacked by political correctness. But he was still hopeful that his beloved Queen Victoria would find a new Canadian home — even if it was not in the city that bears her name.

In any case, he added, in his collection, there was no wax figures of Prince Harry and the duchess.

“He’s a spare — not the heir,” he explained.

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Written by asif


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