VANCOUVER — The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s promise to meet with all kinds of Canadians took them to Vancouver’s gritty Downtown Eastside Sunday, where they met with mothers recovering from addiction who said the visit helped show them they are respected, despite their struggles.
Allison Wright, a mother of two children under five, told the royals her story with a small group of moms over tea at Sheway, an organization that helps marginalized pregnant women and mothers living in one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods.
“I’m really grateful for the chance to bring some light on this place because there’s a lot of love and a lot of hope here,” Wright said.
She said the visit by Prince William and his wife Kate gave those who benefit from the program a chance to be seen as people “and not just a problem to be solved.”
Sheway was modeled on the Glasgow Women’s Reproductive Health Service Unit, which opened in 1990 to serve women with major social problems. That program also has a connection to the Royal Family as it was officially opened by William’s mother, Princess Diana.
The interest from the duke and duchess in Sheway was evident, said manager Patti Zettel.
“Moving through the program with them, their questions were thoughtful, their questions were informed,” she said. “And you can tell that there’s this kind of longitudinal legacy in terms of their understanding of women, addiction, marginalization.”
Their decision to visit the Downtown Eastside was profound, and visiting a women’s organization was even more so, she added.
“It is so important to this community, to the lives of these women. Their voices matter, their lives matter and their kids matter,” Zettel said.
The royal couple later toured the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.’s new Welcome Centre in Vancouver, where they met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.
At each stop, people gathered behind barricades to catch a glimpse of the couple, hand them flowers or perhaps get the chance to say hello.
Elissa and Chris Kiner arrived on the grounds of the B.C. legislature at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday for the official royal arrival more than 12 hours later and made their way home to Vancouver on Sunday to see them again.
They called the trip their “William and Kate chase weekend.” The Kiners gave Kate flowers on Saturday and shook Prince William’s hand on Sunday.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” said Elissa, who plans to watch the rest of the tour on television.
While the royal couple arrived to cheers at every stop, at least one person wasn’t a fan, carrying a sign that read, “No Kings. No Landlords.”
William and Kate travelled Sunday without their children, three-year-old Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who is one.
They were dressed semi-formally for their visit to Vancouver, with William wearing a blazer, tie and dark pants. Kate was wearing a red-and-white patterned dress by the late British designer Alexander McQueen, with her hair down, red shoes and a red purse.
William and Kate also hosted a reception for young Canadians making important contributions to their communities, including Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
A member of Canada’s women’s rugby team asked the prince about his experiences playing the sport.
“Yes, I did play rugby. I wasn’t, obviously, as good as you guys,” William said, drawing laughs. “I tried my best.”
After the event, 20-year-old swimmer Aurelie Rivard admitted she and her fellow athletes were nervous and excited to meet the prince and prime minister.
“We all had moist hands,” said Rivard, who won three gold medals and was the flag-bearer for the closing ceremony at the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Rivard said Prince William asked about her experience at the Games.
“It’s still hard to realize what happened. He’s super nice. We just chatted with him for a little bit. He seems interested in what he does and what we do as well.”
The royals ended the day at the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station, which they left on board a hovercraft.
Prince William is a helicopter pilot with East Anglian Air Ambulance and recently spoke about “dark moments”’ in his job for a documentary that was made for National Air Ambulance Week in the U.K.
The royal couple met with representatives of the Canadian Coast Guard, B.C. Ambulance and other emergency officials, discussing the mental health issues faced by first responders. The duke, referring to mental health issues arising from rescues, said: “I’m so glad your services take it so seriously.”
Prince William admired the equipment displayed by Vancouver Fire and Rescue and North Shore Rescue. Pointing at a new truck, he remarked: “My son George would be obsessed with that.”