Prince Edward hands out gold medal Duke of Edinburgh Awards

CALGARY — Prince Edward focused his attention on Canada’s youth on Sunday and his enthusiasm for the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Awards is bringing benefits to students even in Canada’s North.

Prince Edward

Prince Edward

CALGARY — Prince Edward focused his attention on Canada’s youth on Sunday and his enthusiasm for the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Awards is bringing benefits to students even in Canada’s North.

Edward — the Earl of Wessex, the Queen’s youngest son and seventh in line to the throne — handed out 100 gold medals as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards at a ceremony in Calgary Sunday morning.

The awards, started by his father Prince Philip in the 1950s, are designed to stimulate and encourage self-reliance and discipline, perseverance and determination, initiative and creativity, community responsibility, and fitness of body and mind.

“When you leave this room a little bit later, just feel a little bit proud of what you’ve actually managed to achieve,” said Prince Edward in remarks to the winners.

“Just walk a few inches taller because you’ve got that, you’ve done it and you’ll know there are lots of friends who say the Duke of Edinburgh Awards — well I could do that. The difference is you know you can. Well done.”

The prince acknowledged the awards are Canada’s “best kept secret” and often fly under most people’s radar. He urged the new medal winners to talk about their experience and help the award grow even further.

A breakfast meeting between Prince Edward and private sector, military and RCMP officials yielded immediate dividends.

“I committed that our folks in the 40 detachments that we have in the North would mentor folks through the Duke of Edinburgh Award process toward getting a gold, silver or bronze award,” said Rod Knecht, RCMP deputy commissioner for the North West Region.

“On a per capita basis, it is consistently low in the North and the program will focus on Aboriginal youth predominantly in the North.”

The deputy commissioner said smaller communities would likely receive more attention than the larger centres like Yellowknife or Whitehourse.

“We have a very junior workforce in the North right now, and one of the things our new cadets have to do is complete a stretch assignment,” he explained.

“The Duke of Edinburgh Award would be one of those stretch assignments that we would task our new cadets in the North with doing.”

Only 25 per cent of Nunavut children finish high school and, according to Statistics Canada, only 455 people in that territory — or three per cent of the total population aged 15 to 64 — had earned a university certificate, diploma or degree.

“We do have a good relationship with the elders and council in most of the communities we police in the North, so we will be building that partnership, identifying those people that we think can get through the program and see it through right to the end,” said Knecht.

Gold medal winner Tanis Laatsch, 19, of Calgary, said there are a number of benefits to the award.

“All the employers know about it so it’s a big step up,” she said. “The program makes you learn who you are and who your community is.”

Prince Edward changed into the full military uniform of a Canadian colonel for an event at the Mewata Armoury Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Cadet Instructor subcomponent of the Canadian Forces Reserve.

The prince, who is the colonel-in-chief of the Saskatchewan Dragoons, witnessed a parade and inspected the 150 air, naval and army cadets but did not speak publicly.

He did, however, stop and talk to a handful of cadets including Warrant Officer Jason Ho, 18, a air cadet.

“He just asked me how my experience was with cadets. Other than that it was a quick, brief chat but all the while it was an outstanding experience,” said Ho, who admitted he might tell one or two of his friends about meeting royalty.

Princess Sophie, the wife of Prince Edward, was in Edmonton to meet with members of the Southern Alberta Light Horse Regiment.

The Countess of Wessex inspected crisply lined rows of soldiers outside the city’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church before attending a packed service inside.

Royal watchers and the just-plain curious got as close to the her as they could with their cameras, while others perched themselves on the front steps of surrounding homes to get a view.

She later visited a local armoury where she met with soldiers and their families.