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Jack Knox: As monarch vanishes from ferries, take a deep breath

B.C. Ferries has decided to not only remove the Queen’s portrait from its vessels, but to rid itself of the royal presence altogether: It will not replace the pictures with ones of King Charles
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A portrait of King Charles III, shown with Camilla, the Queen Consort, will not hang from the walls of B.C. Ferries vessels. JACOB KING VIA AP

B.C. Ferries is keelhauling the King.

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the corporation has decided to not only remove her portrait from its vessels, but to rid itself of the royal presence altogether: It will not replace the pictures with ones of King Charles.

“In line with B.C. Ferries’ reconciliation efforts with Indigenous nations, the company will no longer display the reigning monarch’s portrait on vessels,” the company wrote this past week. “We appreciate this decision may disappoint some customers, however we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Hmm, as an unabashed monarchist — really, I curtsy to dogs named Prince and blush before licking the back of certain postage stamps — I’m not sure how to feel about this.

I mean, the last time B.C. Ferries tried to hustle the monarch down the gangplank, we went off our nuts.

That was in 2008, when it was discovered the company had quietly been removing the Queen’s portraits from vessels as they went in for refit.

Its argument back then was that displaying the royal visage was no longer appropriate, as the B.C. Liberal government had transformed B.C. Ferries from a Crown corporation to a private one — though that explanation was scoffed at by people who saw the taxpayer-owned company as being about as private as Tom Brady’s personal life.

In the end, a public backlash against what was seen as republicanism by stealth forced the chastened ferry service to reverse course (as it were) and restore the Queen to its bulkheads.

Presumably, this latest attempt will trigger some sputtering, too. Charles isn’t like other figures who have been banished in the name of reconciliation. The King is — like it or not — Canada’s head of state, not Employee of the Week.

Having said that, I’ll also say this: Rather than knee-jerking into a reaction, how about we all take a deep breath and listen to those whose perspectives might differ from our own.

To repeat, I have long been a monarchist, regarding the institution as not just a gloriously illogical anachronism that appeals to the poetry in our souls, but part of a shared heritage that acts as a bulwark against the raisin-hearted forces of wretched republicanism who, if successful, would reduce Canada to some cookie-cutter McCountry subsidiary of the mega-corporation next door.

Yet I must admit that mine isn’t a view shared by many other Canadians, including those who, after a couple of hundred years of being bulldozed by history, think the whole poetry-in-our-souls thing feels more like a punch in the gut.

B.C. Ferries says it is pulling the portraits because ferry-dependent Indigenous communities see them as a hurtful reminder of a painful past. The monarchy, obviously, represents different things to different people. The perspectives don’t clash so much as they miss each other by a thousand miles.

I must also admit that B.C. Ferries is hardly breaking a new trail here. That is, it’s not as though the drift away from symbols of the monarchy is anything new.

Only older post offices still carry the Queen’s portrait. Long past are the days when her picture peered down serenely from the end of every hockey rink in Canada, her teeth blacked out by a thousand deflected slapshots, giving her a grin like Drew Doughty’s.

The B.C. Schools Act requirement that the monarch’s portrait be displayed in every school was abandoned years ago.

Similarly, it has been a good half a century since students stood to attention and bellowed out (or mouthed the words to) God Save the Queen while the school librarian attacked the piano with the ferocity of Rachmaninoff leaning into Concerto No. 3.

Prior to 1969, the Queen’s image was on every banknote, but now she’s on the $20 bill alone.

It will be interesting to see how the transition from one monarch to the other plays out. Some changes have been made already — B.C.’s Queen’s Printer is now the King’s Printer online — while others will take longer.

Asked when (or if) the King’s head will appear on coins, the Royal (!) Canadian Mint said it’s waiting for direction from the federal government. The same applies to banknotes.

The post office? “Any future stamp issues related to the change in Sovereign will be reviewed by the Canada Post Stamp Advisory Committee and production will follow our detailed process,” it said. “This process will take time, but plans are already under way.”

So, lots of room for debate, or for indignation, or — if we’re willing to take a deep breath — to listen to, not yell at, each other.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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