VICTORIA – It’s been almost 30 years since Diana, Princess of Wales, kissed an AIDS patient on the cheek.
Her open-hearted, selfless gesture of compassion at London’s Mildmay Hospital in 1989 was noticed around the world and helped reduce the vast belief that AIDS could be transferred by human touch.
Royal watchers say Diana’s kindness and tolerance will play a supporting role in the Sept. 24-to-Oct. 1 visit to British Columbia and Yukon by her son William and his wife Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
The royal couple’s visit, starting Saturday, will take them to remote First Nations communities, impoverished urban neighbourhoods and a play date for their children with military families on the grounds of Victoria’s Government House.
The trip is destined to shed light on social issues and causes many Canadians have yet to fully consider, experts say.
On Sunday, William and Kate will visit Sheway, a pregnancy outreach program for mothers struggling with drug and alcohol issues. Sheway is located in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood known for its extreme poverty, homelessness and drug addiction.
“In the past, royal visits to organizations have had an important impact,” said Prof. Mariel Grant of the University of Victoria, a historian with expertise on the influence of the monarchy in modern times.
“I’m thinking of when the late Diana, Princess of Wales, William’s mother, visited a clinic and shook hands with someone suffering from AIDS,” she said. “It helped to remove some of the stigma because people were frightened that touching an AIDS victim might cause someone to get AIDS.”
Grant, whose courses include “Upstairs at Downton Abbey: The British Aristocracy’s Modern Era,” said the visit to Sheway could be a huge eye-opener for Canadians and the world.
“They are going to meet a young mother who has gone through the program and has been regaining custody of her children,” she said. “This draws attention to the good work being done through an organization like that. Everyone’s going to know it exists after this.”
The royals will also visit the indigenous community in Bella Bella, on B.C.’s remote central coast, where they will participate in cultural ceremonies and fly over the area’s Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world.
At Haida Gwaii, on the province’s northern coast, the royals will embark on a sea-going canoe trip from historic Skidegate Landing to the Haida Heritage Centre and Museum.
The tour will also take the royal couple to a coast guard station in Vancouver, a wine tasting at an Okanagan vineyard in Kelowna, and indigenous cultural events at Whitehorse and Carcross in Yukon.
The royals will also visit an immigrant centre in Vancouver that provides settlement services to 25,000 refugees annually.
In Victoria, where they will be based, the royal couple will host a garden party for military families at Government House and visit the Cridge Centre for the Family, which offers shelter, care and hope for children, women and families.
“Instead of bringing attention to the high society garden club, they are bringing attention to causes that might have been forgotten and are doing great work out in the community,” said Keith Roy, spokesman for the Western Canadian Monarchist League of Canada.
Prof. Sarika Bose, a Victorian England expert at the University of B.C., said the visit will touch on the couple’s most fervent public causes of family, environment and community participation while staying true to the overall Royal ambition of hard-working, loyal and dedicated people.
“Yes, the Royal Family has more jewels and has better dinners, but at its heart it’s like everybody else,” she said. “What that does is normalizes and justifies the Royal Family.”
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press