PRINCE PHILIP, who died Friday, had several links to Vancouver Island.
His friendship with North Saanich’s Campbell Stuart, a retired federal trade negotiator who had lost a leg in the Second World War, and who was murdered by his former housekeeper in 1995, dated back to their school days.
Philip had a niece who married a Port Alberni guy in 1979 and, according to the Vancouver Sun, settled into an ordinary job and quiet life in the Lower Mainland, where she was determined to downplay her royal connection.
His nephew Maximilian, Margrave of Baden, Duke of Zähringen, once owned a private island, complete with eight-bedroom lodge, at the north end of the Strait of Georgia. Philip and the Queen popped up there during the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
It was during the 1994 Victoria stay that Lt.-Gov. David Lam joked about a 1989 incident in which Philip, travelling solo, accidentally locked himself out of Government House: “We toyed with the idea of having a spare key cut for him this time.”
In fact, the Duke of Edinburgh travelled to Vancouver Island at least 10 times, including a 1987 journey in which he and the Queen touched down in Victoria briefly before heading to Qualicum Beach for a private, three-day visit with the aristocratic Veronica Milner.
It was another three-day Qualicum trip, though, that gave us the best glimpse of the man.
That was all the way back in October 1951, when the Queen was a 25-year-old princess with no idea that a mere four months later the sudden death of her father would thrust her onto the throne. Having just wrapped up a high-profile, two-day Victoria visit, she and her dashing young naval officer husband set off up-Island for a break at Eaglecrest.
A mention of that trip in a 2012 column inspired several readers to flesh out the details. Oak Bay’s Brian Young, whose grandfather was the senior Mountie present, wrote: “As they were heading up the Malahat, Philip asked my grandfather if he could drive. It was totally against protocol, but how do you say no to a prince?
“So Philip took the wheel and my grandfather hung on for dear life. Philip was both a terrible driver and a very fast driver. Supposedly they made the trip in record time. All the while Liz is in the back seat loving it.”
Duncan’s Flora Mackenzie, who had taken her children to see the royal couple, had a slightly different take on the princess’s reaction: “We waited on the highway just north of the silver bridge to see the procession. I had camera and binoculars ready when suddenly — whoosh — an Oldsmobile sped by with a tiny girl in the back seat looking terrified. That was our future queen.”
Saanich’s Don Duke, a retired RCMP officer, remembered Prince Philip’s need for speed almost doing in those charged with protecting him: “He drove at such a pace that our four motorcycle escorts had difficulty keeping ahead of him, to the extent that two of them momentarily locked together.”
It was, as a clever Times Colonist headline writer said, the day that the Duke of Edinburgh drove like the Dukes of Hazzard. The tale was resurrected a couple of years ago when 97-year-old Philip crashed his Land Rover.
The Island saw more of Prince Philip after that 1951 trip, usually in the company of the Queen. They were last here in 2002, attending morning prayers at Christ Church Cathedral and unveiling a stained glass window at the legislature. They also ventured here — Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox, Tofino — in 1959, 1971 and 1983.
Prince Philip came by himself in 1954, in 1969 when he was awarded an honorary doctorate at UVic (“ ‘With it’ prince closes youth gap” was the front page headline) and in 1992, the latter visit on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund. (At Tillicum Elementary, he told children working on endangered-species projects: “I think you all need some sort of prize, so I’m going to ask your [principal] to give you one day’s extra holiday.”)
It was that 1951 image that stood out, though. The Canadian tour was what the Victoria Daily Times called Elizabeth’s “first major assignment as heiress apparent,” one that, in Victoria at least, at times left her looking bewildered as tens of thousands packed the streets.
The young couple were just embarking on a 70-year journey through the most intense of spotlights. Did they really have any idea of the strange life that lay ahead?
Prince Philip, never known for his tempered tongue, had many admirers but also took a lot of flak over the years, some deserved, some just the product of a kind of scrutiny that few of us could escape unscathed.
Who could blame him for occasionally wanting to take the wheel, step on the gas and hit the open road?