Schools prep for changing monarchy

·4 min read

Civics textbooks will have to be updated, anthems adjusted, and official monarch portraits updated in schools across Manitoba, following the death of Queen Elizabeth.

The Manitoba School Boards Association sent a mass email Friday to K-12 leaders to advise them of the actions they are expected to take regarding pictures of the Queen that hang in school buildings and boardrooms.

“Having just spoken to Heritage Canada, the official protocol is that nothing be done to them until such time as her successor’s official portrait is issued,” wrote Josh Watt, executive director of the association.

“However, if a board feels strongly that they wish to express mourning using the portraits they have on display, then the appropriate gesture would be to place a black ribbon no longer than two inches long on the upper left corner of the frame at a 45-degree angle with no portion of the ribbon covering the Queen’s imagery on the portrait.”

The Royal Family announced the Queen, Canada’s official head of state for 70 years, had died peacefully Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She was 96.

For the first time since 1952, Canadians will return to singing God Save the King. Among the changes, banknotes will eventually depict King Charles III, public institutions will be renamed to pay tribute to the new monarch, and civic buildings will display official portraits of the new head of state.

A member of the Monarchy Society’s local chapter said she feels shock and sadness, as well as gratitude that she lived during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Darcie von Axelstierna said she hopes teachers across the province will take the opportunity to talk about the significance of the monarchy with their students in the midst of this major historic event.

Von Axelstierna said there used to be a portrait of the Queen at the front of K-12 classrooms in Manitoba, but that practice has become increasingly rare.

Many school division boardrooms, where elected trustees meet for regular proceedings throughout the academic year, continue to display official portraits.

“It’s important because it’s a symbol of our nation. It represents our government. It represents our history, It represents our national identity,” said von Axelstierna, who recently stepped down as chairwoman of the Manitoba branch of the national society for monarchists.

In an email Friday, superintendent Lisa Boles said Pembina Trails School Division will keep a portrait of the Queen in the boardroom at 181 Henlow Bay until the King’s official portrait is issued.

“To mark the passing of the Queen, all the flags on our buildings will be flown at half mast until after the funeral. The rest will come in due time as the new King is proclaimed,” said Dianne Zuk, a trustee in the division.

When they are sworn into office, school trustees — not unlike other elected officials — must take an oath of allegiance. Following the upcoming municipal election, local leaders will recite an updated version of the vow to pledge to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles III.”

The act of hanging and maintaining a portrait of the monarch reminds trustees of their oath and serves as “a physical representation of the British Crown in our midst,” said Alan Campbell, president of the school boards association and a long-time trustee in the Interlake region.

While Campbell said the changing monarchy will have little impact on day-to-day operations in local schools, there is no doubt the event is sparking important discussions about the Canadian government and its new King in social studies courses.

It was once commonplace public schools played both O Canada and God Save the Queen on a daily basis. Now, only the former is standard practice.

Until the late 1990s, Manitoba Education enforced a provincial law requiring schools to play the royal anthem daily. The province was an outlier in Canada in legally mandating the song be sung.

To Campbell’s knowledge, the only time the royal anthem is still sung in a school building in Manitoba is at the end of his alma mater’s annual Grade 12 convocation ceremony. The trustee said he expects to sing God Save the King, alongside members of Teulon Collegiate’s Class of 2023 and their families in June.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press