What’s the deal with the Queen, anyway?

I recently showed my ignorance of the Queen over at J-Walk’s blog in a series of comments that began like this:

I would love to do away with the monarchy in Canada. It’s absurd how much money and resources we waste in accommodating the Queen.

Then someone responded with:

Exactly how much does the monarchy cost Canada? And how much would a domestic Head of State cost? I guarantee that the present system is cheaper than any alternative (mainly because the UK picks up most of the cost).

Then I said:

I don’t have the exact figure on me, but I know it’s a lot. And I’m pretty sure it’s Canadian tax dollars, not money from the UK, that pays for maintaining the Queen’s multi-million dollar official residence in every province — residences that are maintained just in case she visits, which is extremely rare in the first place, and when she does visit, she usually stays at a high end hotel instead. Seems like a silly waste of money to me.

The discussion went on and apparently became heated. I kept at it even though I didn’t know what I was talking about. Eventually I admitted my ignorance and skulked away with my tail between my legs.
queen elizabeth

I studied Canadian history all throughout junior high and high school and I don’t remember any teacher in any class, history or otherwise, ever providing an explanation of the monarchy in Canada. I have no clue how it works — or what clues I do have are minimal and probably misinformed. (To be completely honest, I don’t remember any of the Canadian history I studied in school. I know from a Rheostatics song that Louis Riel rode a horse. That’s it.) The Queen means nothing to me, never has, probably never will. “Much ado about nothing” seems the most appropriate description of the monarchy in my eyes. I just don’t see what all the fuss is about — or why we even bother having her around. I’m sure she’s a nice old lady. I don’t have anything against her personally.

But can someone enlighten me from my ignorance and explain why we, as Canadians, spend so much time and money accommodating the Queen? Why do we still have a monarchy in Canada when we are (I hope) a completely independent and self-governing democratic country?

I’m not looking for links; I know how to use Google. I’m interested in your knowledge of the monarchy of Canada. I have a feeling I’m not the only one without a clue.