Jack Knox: What if you spotted a prince? ‘I’d do nothing’

Here’s a nice thing about Victoria: Nobody was looking for Prince Harry on Horth Hill on Friday.

After we reported that the prince had been spotted hiking the trails there, you might think the Saanich Peninsula park would be crawling with celebrity hounds on the hunt.

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Nope. By mid-morning, the parking lot was fullish, but not overflowing. Regular dog-walkers (almost everyone had a dog; it must be a North Saanich bylaw or something) figured the park might have been a little busier than usual, but put that down to it being a nice day for a Christmas ramble. The usual Friday trail-running groups were there, too.

If some park users were intrigued by the potential presence of the holidaying Harry, Meghan Markle and their son, Archie, they appeared more interested in giving the Royals their space. One guy, a visitor from Vancouver, said he was led to the park by the Harry story, but only because he thought the article made Horth Hill sound like a hidden gem, a good place to tromp around for the morning.

What would locals do if they ran into Harry on the trail?

“I’d just give him the regular hello I give everybody,” said Malcolm Northcott, who lives on the edge of the park. “I don’t imagine they’re going to stop and have a long-winded conversation with anybody.”

“I’d do nothing,” said Ashley Jackson, who was on one of her twice-a-day walks with her young black lab, Sula. “I’d just hope Sula wouldn’t jump on him.”

Actually, Jackson seemed more excited to learn that Northcott was the owner of a donkey named Pepe, who is something of a neighbourhood rock star. “Prince Harry, that’s awesome, but Pepe is the talk of the town around here.”

People bring their carrot-clutching children and grandchildren to see the donkey. One fellow visits every day to feed Pepe peppermints. That man is the one who first told Northcott that Harry and Meghan were around, though it’s not like he went gaga about it. It’s just not done.

Maybe that reserve is one of the reasons Vancouver Island has a history of royal holidays.

Harry’s great-grandparents, King George VI and Elizabeth, enjoyed a 1939 picnic outside Hatley Castle so much that, two years later, they asked Canada’s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, about using the Colwood estate as a royal residence.

Our current monarch has spent a few holidays hereabouts, including a three-day stay at Qualicum Beach in 1987 with the aristocratic Veronica Milner (who, as a descendant of the first Duke of Marlborough, was related to Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales).

The Queen was also reported to have twice stayed at the lodge at the privately owned Twin Islands, southeast of Cortes Island in the northern Strait of Georgia. The property was at one point owned by her husband’s nephew Maximilian, Margrave of Baden, Duke of Zähringen (or, if you prefer, Maximilian Andreas Friedrich Gustav Ernst August Bernhard). The Queen spent time there just before opening Victoria’s Commonwealth Games in August 1994.

Then there was the time in 1951 that the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip concluded an official visit to Victoria by heading up-Island for a three-day vacation at Eaglecrest, near Qualicum. After we wrote about that trip in 2012, Oak Bay’s Brian Young passed on the recollections of his granddad, who had been the senior Mountie on the journey: “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?”

Alas, the Duke of Edinburgh drove like the Dukes of Hazzard. “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 remembered taking her children to see the royal couple: “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 Philip going so fast “that our four motorcycle escorts had difficulty keeping ahead of him, to the extent that two of them momentarily locked together.”

Just four months later, Elizabeth’s father died. Imagine the weight of the crown that was on her young head. Imagine the need to, occasionally, get away.

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