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Address to convocation by His Royal Highness Prince Charles

Address to convocation by His Royal Highness Prince Charles

[The Prince and Princess of Wales visited Queen's University on Oct. 28,1991.]
The Prince and Princess of Wales visited Queen's University on Oct. 28,1991, as part of the university's sesquicentennial celebrations. His Royal Highness Prince Charles received an honorary doctorate of laws. (Photo: Queen's Archives)

Madam chancellor, principal, members of the university, ladies and gentlemen, messieurs et mesdames.

I have a distinct and uncomfortable feeling that our presence here today may constitute a noisy violation of the hallowed groves of academe, not to mention the indignities to which you may have been exposed as a result of what are euphemistically called "security considerations."

Such "considerations" no doubt required you to be minutely examined by a highly trained dog, to be deprived of your normal freedom to park your vehicular conveyance wherever you want, to be inspected by someone inexplicably carrying a long stick with a rear- view mirror on the end, to have your person plastered with inconvenient badges on which your name has probably been misspelt and your gender confused, and then, as if all this were not enough, to be hermetically sealed into an overheated hall at least an hour before we arrived. It must all be enough to turn anyone republican, or to induce an academic breakdown! You have my profound sympathies, ladies and gentlemen!

Bit I do feel immensely honored to have been invited to be with you at Queen's University today. It is 150 years since my great great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, granted you your Royal Charter -- and 150 years since the Act of Union that brought Ontario and Quebec together in the United Province of Canada, a union of which Kingston was, of course, the first capital.

Sometimes the familiarity which comes from living in a place for a long time makes us lose sight of its special characteristics. But I do find it remarkable, and sobering, that the City Hall at which my wife and I were so warmly welcomed this morning was home to the first Parliament of the United Province; that it was here in Kingston that some of the first great steps towards Canadian nationhood were taken; that the two official languages were first formally brought together; and here that the political rights of French-speaking Canadians were so eloquently defended before the legislature by Louis LaFontaine.

It was clearly no accident that, having helped to found Queen's University, the young John A. Macdonald went on to help found the Canadian confederation. And, since this is something of an anniversary occasion, it seems right to remember too that it is exactly 100 years since the death in 1891 of that remarkable contributor to the national life of Canada.

Ladies and gentlemen, my own university education was split between the study of archeology and anthropology and the study of history. On neither subject was I able to spend as long as I would have liked (or as my tutors said I needed) partly because I found myself disappearing off to various parts of the Commonwealth for official reasons rather than concentrating on giving myself a premature nervous breakdown by attempting to obtain a first-class degree. In the end I achieved a second-class degree from Cambridge and an honorary degree in law from the University of Alberta which, I trust, somewhat mitigates my lack of appropriate qualifications for the distinction you are so generously bestowing on me today.

You may be interested to know -- or you may not be -- that a series of universities throughout the world have displayed a curious desire to bestow a remarkable variety of degrees upon me. Such ceremonies have, in the past, prompted some intriguing manifestations by the students. . . At a Welsh university they went so far as to dig up a football pitch so that a helicopter could not land in order to take me away. As I presumed that they actually wanted me to go home in the first place (judging by the tastefully worded signs they waved above their heads) I could not quite fathom the logic that lay behind this particular ploy!

So, ladies and gentlemen, you may well ask what has been the cumulative effect of all these academic qualifications? Very probably, a stunning capacity -- not to be taken literally -- to teach my grandmother to suck eggs! Apart from that I have gradually developed, amongst other things, a particular view about the responsibilities I believe we have as stewards of the Earth we find ourselves inhabiting. Maybe this is something to do with a mid-life crisis, or visits by aliens from outer space -- or a result of putting maple syrup on my breakfast cereal. . . Whatever the cause, I simply cannot resist expressing a few thoughts to a captive audience!

I expect you would agree that there is something distinctly different about human life as compared with other forms of existence. And it seems to have been there from the very beginning. As Wordsworth put it:

"Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home."

Much of life, it seems to me, is about learning how to live up to such a beginning, how to fulfil the unique potential of human kind.

The great Canadian scholar Northrop Frye once wrote that "learning is the only important thing that goes on in life" -- a sentiment which you, as members of Queen's University, can fully appreciate. You have here an institution of world repute, with a spirit, a cohesiveness, and an envied reputation of both playing hard and working hard. All these, combined with the highest standards of scholarship and research, make Queen's one of the most sought-after educational establishments in North America.

Of all the responsibilities facing a modern, democratic society, none, surely, takes precedence over that of educating its young people. In the battle for survival in an increasingly competitive and imbalanced world, I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that those societies which fail to give education the highest priority are those which, in the long term, are condemned to fail -- to fail their own people and to fail in those social, economic and industrial stakes which, at present, provide the key to the ability of each society to determine its own future.

By education I mean something more than just equipping ourselves for the task of earning a living -- vital as that is. Education, I believe, is about something more ambitious: as Plato explained more than 2,000 years ago, it is about the moral formation of the "whole person." It is about the learning of skills, of course; but it is also about the acquisition of the kind of wisdom which, when handed down from one generation to another, provides us with the means of survival in what could otherwise easily become a very hostile environment indeed.

It is also about the assimilation of values, about the continuation of a cultural and philosophical heritage which has, in many of our civilizations, evolved over thousands of years. In this sense, it includes acquiring a sense of awe, a sense of reverence for the world we inhabit, and of which we are merely the custodians for the generations who will come after us.

Our ability to use our remarkable intelligence to bring about technical advances is quite breathtaking. So too is the accelerating rate at which those advances have been made, particularly in the last few decades of the millennia that man has spent on this planet. Technical progress has given us the ability to improve our lives in many important ways. No-one with parts of their anatomy broken into several pieces would wish to return to an era without x-rays; nor would many of us prefer to exist without refrigerators and modern communications. But that same process of technical development has given us the capacity to wreak havoc on our environment -- to a degree which previous generations would have found incomprehensible. (The difficulty, it seems to me, is how to live in a world increasingly dominated by mechanical or automatic processes without adopting, through the principles of osmosis, the more mindless characteristics of a machine.)

We are very good at creating such problems. We are getting better at understanding them. But we are not nearly good enough at finding solutions to overcome them.

(Spoken in French): I believe that one of the most important challenges now facing mankind is to learn to use our new-found technological power wisely; to recognize the fragility of our environment and the limits to our knowledge of the consequences of our technological development, and to exercise restraint. Never before has it been so important that the young are properly prepared for the responsibilites ahead of them.

It is a sobering thought that from now on each generation will have the future survival of our species literally in its own hands. A sobering thought not only for educationists and governments, but for all those with an interest in, and responsiblity for education, including employers, local communities, and especially parents. As Antoine de Saint Exupery put it: "Nous n'avons pas herite la terre de nos ancetres. Nous l'avons empruntee de nos enfants." (Translation: "We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors. We have borrowed it from our children.")

With its treasure trove of natural resources, open spaces, and an outdoor people often more at home on its lakes, rivers and mountainsides than in the big cities, Canada has been one of the first countries to understand and do something about the threats facing our natural environment.

Visiting Sudbury last Thursday, I was struck by the priority now being given to reforestation and the reconstruction of the areas so badly damaged by earlier industrial activity. On Saturday I was fascinated to see how much was being done, mainly by volunteers, to rehabilitate the River Don, just a stone's throw away from Toronto city centre.

More generally, with its unique system of national and provincial round-tables, the activities of voluntary groups, and the re- orientation of the investment policies of big business, Canada's progress towards genuinely sustainable development is something from which the rest of the world has much to learn. I daresay Canada could be in the forefront of those developed nations which have the foresight to see that the world's future depends on the enlightened development of technological processes that can actually enhance our environment and, in many cases, restore the degraded and misused parts of it.

As awareness of the challenges facing us increases, spawning an understandable and admirable desire to do something to stop the rot, kaleidoscopes of groups and organizations appear on the scene. But all too often, it seems to me, we fail to provide adequate links between those who are working for the same objectives. Here in Canada, for example, business is increasingly committed to the sustainable model of economic development -- preserving finite natural resources, working with rather than against local communities, and developing partnerships with schools and universities to provide new skills. At the same time, numerous non- governmental organizations and voluntary groups are working for the same results. But how much of a genuine partnership exists between the corporate sector and the voluntary sector? Or between either and government?

It was because I thought more could perhaps be done in this area of bringing together expertise, examples of good practice, and like- minded individuals -- and because, as many people may have discovered to their cost, I am an incurable busybody -- that I took a considerable risk two years ago and invited a series of business leaders to help me establish a forum to pursue their ideas. Pilot schemes in the United Kingdom had already shown that business had a major role to play in inner-city regeneration, housing schemes, education and training. But, as you can imagine, skepticism had to be overcome.

Since starting out in the United States in February of last year, my forum of business leaders has held meetings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in Japan and India, in Brazil, in Scotland and, two days ago, in Toronto. The overall objective has been one of harnessing the resources and long-term interests of international business to work with local groups and non-governmental agencies on behalf of the local community.

Different venues have led us to concentrate on different themes. In central Europe, the most urgent need seemed to be to encourage the development of an enterprise culture to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of state-run economies. In Brazil we worked -- and are continuing to work -- on ways in which local and international business can co-operate with the voluntary sector with the twin objectives of helping to solve some of the social problems of the larger cities and limiting the damage being sustained by the rainforests and their indigenous peoples.

As you can perhaps imagine, there is always a degree of uncertainty about the reaction you will meet with in different countries when you suggest bringing a wide range of people together. So, in Toronto on Saturday, I was surprised, but delighted by the extent to which business, environmental and community leaders from across Canada welcomed the opportunity to come together to examine practical ways in which economic development could be balanced with the protection of our natural environment. And it will come as no surprise to this audience that I was enormously impressed by how much other business leaders can learn from Canadians, and by the willingness of the corporate sector and environmental groups to work in harmony.

There is little point, I would have thought, in seeking to improve the quality of community life and of our natural environment if we do not also concern ourselves with the quality of our built environment. A bridge, a building, or a new town, is not simply the concern of those who own it, design it, and then put it up. It is also a matter of legitimate interest to those whose lives and surroundings are affected by it, and to those who care about the state in which we bequeath the world to our successors.

Architecture is, after all, the most public of art forms. It has a bearing on everyone. It is a visible indication of the values and priorities, not just of a locality but of whole civilizations. Above all it represents values. In the context of what our ancestors have bequeathed to us through pride in their craftsmanship and, in many cases, through devotion to a higher purpose together, it provides a sense of belonging and a sense of continuity in an uncertain world.

In this sense it is all the more profoundly tragic to witness the appalling destruction of a great Islamic heritage in Iraq -- by its own political leadership -- after the end of the Gulf war when the allies had deliberately and carefully avoided bombing the great cultural and religious sites at Kerbela and Najaf. (The inhuman campaign of repression being waged by that same leadership against the Shia Muslims in Southern Iraq is perhaps even more horrific. But that is the subject of another address!)

Even while I speak, yet another tragedy is unfolding before us with the appalling destruction in Yugoslavia. There, despite Serbian promises, it seems that the old city of Dubrovnik, one of the treasures of European and Mediterranean civilization and an inspiration to the hearts of millions, is in mortal danger. I remember visiting Dubrovnik. It is a magical place, the loss of which would diminish us all.

I happen to believe, for what it is worth, that from the point of view of what we bequeath to our successors it is worthwhile examining the values represented by some of the things we are building today. Are we really happy to be remembered by such a memorial to a "throw-away" society? The challenge, in my opinion, is to develop a more appropriate -- a more harmonious -- form of building for the 21st century. Hence my interest in the education of architects, not to mention that of developers and planners! But this is not the occasion to treat you to a dissertation on my theories of architectural education!

There is now a unique opportunity in a young and open society such as Canada's to show the world that a gentler and more civilized approach is not incompatible with commercial success; in other words, that competitiveness, good manners and social responsibility can go hand in hand.

Of course, in Canada today you are not only building houses, offices, towers and bridges; you are also building a new society. The process, it seems to me, is not entirely dissimilar. Like fine buildings, fine societies can inspire, reflecting hopes, aspirations and ideals as well as form and function. Some turn out to be ugly and unsuitable and are quickly demolished and replaced. Others are repaired and patched from time to time, and make do. But the best buildings and the best societies last an age, carrying with them a sense of timelessness and reverence which is both permanent and yet infinitely flexible and adaptable.

Good design of both buildings and societies takes account of where we have come from, what values we prize and what view we take of our own destiny.

Buildings that really work depend upon attention to detail. Societies that work reflect human detail of individual aspiration as expressed through the family, the village, the town, the city or the local community.

As Canada goes through the difficult, delicate, demanding process of deciding what kind of society it wants in the 21st century, it seems to me that there is much to be said for remembering how and why, with what designs and for what purpose, Canada was conceived and built.

Within the Canadian federal home there are many rooms, each with its own particular memories. That home has housed the native aboriginal peoples, the two founding immigrant European communities, each with their own language and culture, and generations of other immigrants which Canada has never ceased to welcome from all the corners of the world.

All have survived under one roof, thanks to a steadfast commitment to peace, the rule of law and good government; to the traditions of parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy all of which, I believe, have served the country well; and to the application of what Sir Wilfrid Laurier called a policy of "true Canadianism -- moderation and conciliation."

I recognize that touching on the debate about Canada's constitutional future is a risky business, but then I have a hereditary defect -- living dangerously! I am reminded of the occasion in 1860, when the then Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, visited the Niagara Falls and watched that famous tightrope walker Blondin cross the gap between the United States and Canada. Having then carried a man across on his back and returned walking on stilts -- he must have been mad -- Blondin suggested taking my great great grandfather in a wheelbarrow. History relates that he was ready and willing to take the risk, but was firmly discouraged by the Canadian authorities from making so undignified a first visit to America. (Believe you me, the case would apply today).

Mentioning Canada's constitutional problems today is rather as I imagine riding in Blondin's wheelbarrow must have been! But perhaps an honorary doctorate of law from a Canadian university now entitles me to pontificate upon the subject!

It is a subject that is not only risky, but obviously enormously complex. I am sure that many of you remember the story of that chaplain to the United States Senate who once began morning prayers with the honest admission to his maker: "Lord, thy servant knows not enough about these issues to pray relevantly."

But the issues are of such importance, and Canada's future is a matter of such universal concern, that I hope you will not mind me mentioning -- as someone who has found himself in a position to take an affectionate interest in the affairs of this remarkable country - - a few thoughts which just might be relevant to the enormously difficult tasks which lie ahead.

(This paragraph was spoken in French): Canada is a country with so many advantages that outsiders find it difficult to understand why there should be any serious questions about even its future, let alone its survival. Other countries wrestling with the issue of federalism -- how far and how fast individual states should surrender their sovereignty, or, in some cases, take it back -- look at the Canadian example with envy and admiration. There is a certain genius in the Canadian political culture which helps to explain the extraordinary resilience it has shown in dealing so constructively and for so long with the stresses and strains of cultural and regional pluralism.

Elsewhere, federalism has often failed even when there were strong economic and political grounds for thinking it could succeeed. That it has worked as well as it has in Canada is, I believe, largely due to a sense of patriotism -- a Canadian patriotism which has somehow been able to provide expression for English- and French-speaking aspirations while preserving the fundamental belief that there can and must be a national solution to the diverse demands of Canada's extraordinary diverse people.

Other strengths, too, are associated with Canada's political culture: practicality, common sense, realism, tolerance, and a concern always to try to move forward by consensus. An American acquaintance told me that the main difference between Canadians and Americans was that Canadians tended to be more polite. Canadians, he said, even say "thank you" when completing their business at automatic cash dispensers!

Perhaps because of these qualities, Canada has developed a niche of its own in international consciousness, as a respected and increasingly committed peacemaker and peacekeeper. It is a reputation firmly anchored in the remarkable contribution made by so many Canadians to the cause of peace in two world wars and in many of the other crises which have threatened world peace this century.

At the Fort York Armory on Friday night I was asked to unveil a new memorial to the participants in the Dieppe raid in 1942. With a good number of Dieppe veterans present, it was a moving reminder of Canada's remarkable contribution over the years. Last week in Harare at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference, I know that the Queen saw for herself, once again, just how important a contribution Canada makes to the work of the Commonwealth and, through the Commonwealth fraternity, to world peace and prosperity. The world, in brief, needs Canada.

I believe that these many and varied strengths will stand Canada in excellent stead as the country wrestles with the challenges which lie ahead -- of responding to the aspirations of the original inhabitants of this land; of affirming Quebec's distinct nature; of equipping Canada with the means of meeting the economic challenges of the next century; and of re-modelling political structures in such a way that all Canadians feel comfortable with them.

Whatever happens, whatever the future arrangements may turn out to be, Canadians will still continue to live not only in close proximity to one another, but also under conditions of mutual interdependence. Cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences can inevitably produce all sorts of human tensions and passions, but under the protection of a well-tried system of law they have the potential to be far more a source of enrichment and strength than of weakness and division.

While the substance of any changes remains vitally important, the manner and atmosphere in which such changes are brought about will also be critical to their prospects for success. Human and social values are not only of an individual nature. They also have a collective value. Therefore the challenge facing societies under stress is, I would have thought, to find a way to harmonize differences through the application of some of the more fundamental human and social values to the body politic, thereby building mutual respect and strength out of diversity.

(Prince Charles spoke these words in French): At the end of the day, the people of this great country will decide upon the future they want. I am convinced that the outcome will be positive and good -- not because the problems and fears will suddenly, as if by magic, disappear, but because I cannot help believing that the best interests of 26 million Canadians lie in finding a satisfactory and mutually acceptable way forward as members of a federation which remains the envy of much of the world and holds out the prospect -- if the right decisions are taken now -- of a great future built upon a most distinguished past.

With affection, admiration, and confidence in the future of this country, I would like to end with the words of a distinguished Canadian historian, A.R.M. Lower of this great university, writing in 1946:

"In every generation Canadians have had to rework the miracle of their political existence. Canada has been created because there has existed, within the hearts of its people, a determination to build for themselves an enduring home."

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 4-2016]