As tributes pour in for Queen Elizabeth, there are mixed reactions to her death from around the world and here at home in Sackville: Heartfelt expressions of love, admiration and respect on the one hand, but also bitter reflections on the monarchy as a symbol of colonial violence, racism and plunder, on the other.
“She genuinely and sincerely takes an interest in whomever she meets,” says Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, who was the Queen’s representative in New Brunswick from 1997 to 2003 after serving as a local MLA and cabinet minister and practising family medicine here before that.
Today during a telephone interview, Trenholme Counsell remembered how she was caught off guard by the Queen’s questions during a friendly 35 minute chat at Buckingham Palace in 1998.
“She asked me, ‘Why did you leave medicine to go into politics?'”
Trenholme Counsell chuckled as she recalled her answer.
“I kind of took a deep breath and then I said, ‘Well, Your Majesty I felt it was another way that I could serve my people.’ ‘That’s wonderful she said, that’s wonderful.'”
Trenholme Counsell says the Queen’s long, 70 year reign makes it hard to imagine the world without her.
“When I was at Mount Allison in 1953, I was chosen to represent the university at a student seminar in India,” she recalls.
“There were 55 students from all across Canada and we went by ship from Quebec City to Le Havre, France and then we went into Paris for two or three days and stayed in a student hostel.”
Trenholme Counsell remembers going to a big department store that sold television sets to witness the Queen’s coronation, the first time she ever watched TV.
“We watched this in awe seeing television for the first time and of course, it was a momentous occasion.”
“When I heard the news of the Queen’s death, it was a shock,” says Sackville artist Christian Corbet.
He notes that just two days earlier, the Queen had sworn in Liz Truss as Britain’s new prime minister.
“When the photos of that came out, I thought to myself she had lost a lot of weight and I thought that she reminded me of my grandmother and I didn’t expect that she would be around much longer.”
Corbet says that when he happened to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2013, the first thing he thought was, “Wow, she’s tiny.”
He had been commissioned to create a bronze bust of Prince Philip and spent several days in the palace making sketches.
“I believe almost 100% that if it wasn’t for the monarchy, I wouldn’t have the same career that I have today,” Corbet says.
His association with British Royalty began in 1989 when the Queen Mother admired one of his pieces at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
Later, she commissioned him to create a portrait for her 95th birthday.
“I feel as though ever since that point in 1995, that my career has blossomed and flourished because the public are well aware of the monarchy and if the British Royals say you’re OK, then you’re OK.”
Corbet says the Canadian Portrait Academy asked the Queen if they could commission him to create a portrait of her as a gift for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, her 60th anniversary on the throne.
Instead, the Queen suggested he mentor younger artists and so, he ended up working with special needs students at the Queen Elizabeth School in Moncton to create a bust that is now on display in the Lieutenant Governor’s residence in Fredericton.
Corbet, who serves as official sculptor for the Royal Canadian Navy, says he’s been asked to put together a video honouring the Queen’s legacy with the navy.
“So, I’ve got a lot to work to do,” he says with a chuckle.
“If you look at the news over the last day or so, there tends to be this overarching narrative of grief and the loss of this magnificent person,” says David Thomas, a professor of politics and international relations at Mount Allison.
“But if you look around the world today, people were reacting in all kinds of different ways and there are a lot of people who are not sad at this loss because what the monarchy represents to many people across this world is colonialism, imperialism and in some cases, terror and destruction of life and homelands.”
Thomas explains that by terror, he means, for example, the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya that began in the 1950s during the Queen’s early reign.
He points out that the British suppression of the rebellion included murder, torture, mass incarceration and theft of property.
Thomas says it’s important to listen to the voices of those on the receiving end of this kind of violence.
“Whether it’s South Africans or Kenyans or people from Yemen or India or Indigenous people in this part of the world, I think it’s important for us to listen carefully to what they have to say because these are people who suffered the consequences of British imperialism.”
Thomas acknowledges that the complicity of British monarchs in the crimes of empire is open for debate.
“The Queen herself didn’t necessarily order massacres of Kenyans during the Mau Mau rebellion and other things like that,” he says.
“I think it’s probably safe to say that as the head of state and as the symbol of British colonialism and imperialism, at the very least, the monarchy has benefited and continues to benefit from centuries of conquest,” he concludes.