When the King visited McKellar Park

Prince Charles smiles and waves to the camera as he walks up the outside stairs of the Ukrainian Church.
Charles and Camillia, then still a Prince and Duchess, visited McKellar Park as part of Queen Elizabeth ll’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in May 2022. Less than a year later, the pair would be crowned King and Queen. File photo by Charlie Senack.

By Christina Korotkov

It was one year ago when King Charles III and Queen Camilla came to town. 

The Royal couple, then still a Prince and Dutchess, were touring Canada as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. During their one day trip to Ottawa, they stopped by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on Byron Avenue.  

“They wanted to see what the impact was on Ukrainians in the diaspora because of this war,” said Halyna Beznaczuk, who was in charge of organizing the event that hosted the royal couple on May 18, 2022. 

During their hour and a half at the church, the now King and Queen had the chance to meet over 100 local Ukrainians, many of whom were helping family members and friends back in their homeland after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. They attended a service before going to the downstairs hall to learn more about Ukrainian culture.

The royals had requested to meet a Ukrainian family who recently had arrived in Canada. The exchange between the royals and the family, observed by Beznaczuk, was a quiet, personal moment.

Beznaczuk could tell by their mannerisms –  the royal couple was leaning into the family when they were talking and not letting go of their hands — that they wanted to learn. Reflecting back, Beznaczuk said meeting the royals is seared in her memory. The King was very soft-spoken and had a way of putting others at ease.

“I can still visualize it and hear his voice,” Beznaczuk said. “It’s an outstanding moment.”

The Royal couple’s trip to McKellar Park was a tight-lipped secret for weeks leading up to their tour of Canada. When British media and a sea of security detail started to congregate outside of the church, it caught the interest of the community. 

Over 100 community members gathered on the church lawn when news broke that the future King and Queen would be arriving, in addition to the hundreds of people who packed the congregation’s hall. People were waving Union Jack and Ukraine flags, a sign of solidarity and support against the war which was then just unfolding. 

Cassian Soltykevych is the national secretary for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. He expressed how appreciative the Ukraine community was for the royals requesting a visit with his community.

“It’s a time of war. It’s a very difficult time for our community,” he said. “It helped raise a lot of spirits in terms of getting people’s energy going. As every month passes, the volunteer burnout is real.”

Soltykevych was able to speak with King Charles for a few minutes about the work being done in Ottawa.

“He was interested in talking about experiences,” he said. “Just quite interested to see the uniqueness that happened in Ottawa with the work we’ve done for those people arriving because of the war and also to draw similarities to what he’s seen.”

Soltykevych said Ukrainians have a long history with Canada since first immigrating more than 130 years ago. Fighting alongside Canada in several wars, they are proud to call Canada home and know they have the safety and security to support countries fighting for their democracy here in Canada.

The visit for the Ukrainian community was very unique. Ukrainians are people proud of their culture, and sharing good food, song and dance is something they’re always excited to share.

“A lot of people didn’t know he was going to be crowned king this quickly, but it was a unique opportunity nonetheless,” said Soltykevych.

Father Taras Kinash has been the priest at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin since his arrival with his family shortly after the war in Ukraine began.

He said the royal visit showed Great Britain’s support for the displaced Ukrainians in Ottawa and Canada. 

“He asked how I was doing here in Canada,” said Kinash, who was shocked the King was speaking to him. “I thanked him very much and said ‘we enjoy Canada, we like it very much. We’re happy to host you here. It’s a big pleasure for our community to see you, to hear you, to pray together with you for Ukraine, for Great Britain, for the Queen and for Canada.’”

This visit showed Ukrainians the relationship they have with Great Britain.

“It means Ukraine has a good friend in Great Britain,” said Kinash.

Queen Camilla and King Charles walk out of the Ukrainian church’s front entrance.
While the Royal visit ti McKellar Park only lasted around 45 minutes, it was a memorable experience for residents who got to meet the future King and Queen. File photo by Charlie Senack.

The church community asked Jennie Dutchak to make a korovai to present to the royal couple by the organizing committee upon arrival.

“I’ve been doing the korovai for 40 years,” she said. “A korovai is a special bread to greet special dignitaries or on special occasions.”

Dutchak still remembers her brief interaction with King Charles.

“When he came to my table,” said Dutchak, who was hosting the table that had traditional breads, “I told him I was the person who made the korovai, and in passing I said to him that I wanted to say ‘thank you.’ His father, the late Prince Philip, requested a special hymn to be sung at his funeral.”

The hymn, Kontakion, is sung in honour as a soul journeys to Heaven.

Dutchak has been singing in a choir for 50 years, and Kontakion is a hymn her choir will sing at funerals.

“When I heard it sung by the choir, I was moved to tears,” she said in reference to Prince Philip’s funeral. “It was so beautifully sung. It was unprecedented. I said this to Prince Charles when he was at my table that music can be so far reaching. The prince looked at me, shook my hand, said thank you and moved on.”

It is expected King Charles and Queen Camilla will soon make another trip to Canada in hopes of strengthening the country’s ties with the British Monarchy. A recent Angus Reid Institute poll said only 33 per cent of Canadians think the country should remain in a constitutional monarchy, whereas 45 per cent of respondents said they should sever ties.

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