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Jack Knox column: Victoria's reign as regal capital

Jun 03 2012

The Queen is bunged away in storage in Saanich.

A Vancouver newspaper called, asked to have her dragged into the sunlight for a Jubilee photo this week, but Ken Lane said no, that would involve dry-cleaning her gown, buffing the royal jewelry, bringing in a hairdresser to revitalize her tresses.

A hairdresser for a wax figure?

Yes, Lane used to bring a hairdresser into the Royal London Wax Museum every January when the tourism attraction closed for a few days.

"All of the women got done every year - shampooed, rinsed and re-set," says Lane, the museum's owner.

The exhibits had real human hair, you see. It came from Italy. The glass eyes were imported from a medical supplier in Germany. People (real ones) who had allergic reactions to their own plastic prosthetic eyes would occasionally ask the museum for its source.

Alas, Victorians haven't been able to set their own eyes on Her Royal Highness since 2010, when the museum lost its Inner Harbour home. Just like wax Elvis, the Queen has left the building. "She's still tucked away in storage with her compatriots," Lane says.

Which is, it seems, a metaphor for the way the rest of Canada looks at Victoria: a bit quaint, a bit British, a bit anachronistic, to be dusted off and hauled out of the closet when anything monarchyrelated pops up.

We are like an aging greataunt who, lipstick off-target, gets plunked at the head table at a family wedding. When William married Kate last year, the TV cameras descended on The Empress as if on cue, eager for images of white gloves, pearls and teacups, maybe some muttonchops and monocles in the Bengal Lounge.

With the Queen celebrating 60 years on the throne this weekend, Canadians once again look to Victoria, the last echo of a long-gone empire; we're the equivalent of a Neil Diamond impersonator, as close as it gets to the real deal without needing a passport or driving on the left.

Only it's not really true, is it? Probably wasn't even true back in 1975, when the provincial government painted the Union Jack on the funnels of the old Princess Marguerite and invited Americans to take the ferry from Seattle to what was advertised as a piece of Ol' Blighty. That Britain doesn't even exist in Britain anymore.

This is also the image that some Canadians have of the monarchy: a distant, and outdated curiosity.

Some even band together in groups with names like the Citizens for a Canadian Republic or the Humourless Bastards Who Should Devote This Kind of Energy to Real Problems and demand an end to what they argue is an illogical monarchy.

Well, of course Canada's monarchy is illogical. All monarchies are until you consider the alternative, which is to become another blandly logical cookiecutter McCountry where the national ideal is personified in some half-bright president who gets lavished with the kind of uncritical fealty that is relatively benign when directed to a figurehead, but downright dangerous when accorded anyone with real power. Swear undying loyalty to George W. Bush, next thing you know you're standing in the middle of an Iraqi desert with a garden spade, digging for weapons of mass destruction.

But I digress.

If the Queen's Jubilee is being marked in Victoria this weekend, it's only in a few minor ways. The most visible sign is the sensibly dressed figurine that has appeared on the desk of the Times Colonist's Carla Wilson: a six-inch-tall Queen whose big vinyl purse contains a solar panel that powers her screwingin-a-lightbulb wave.

At least Carla's Queen can be seen, unlike the one from wax museum, whose days in Victoria appear done. Lane, who is looking for a new location off-Island, just got back from a trip through Alberta and the B.C. Interior. "Nothing firm yet, but there are a couple of spots that excite the imagination."

The collection, maintained in climate-controlled storage, includes 350 figures, the newest of which is Barack Obama. Contrast that to the Queen, who took the throne when Harry Truman was in the White House.

The popularity of presidents waxes and wanes, but the Queen, just like Victoria, evolves and endures.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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