Adoring crowds greet William and Kate as Canadian tour starts

OTTAWA — Prince William and Kate introduced themselves to Canadians like a pair of charming and elegant foreign cousins, spending Day One of their first official overseas visit engaging throngs of delighted fans.

The Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge wave to the crowds as they take part in a ceremony at the National War Memorial  in Ottawa on Thursday

The Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge wave to the crowds as they take part in a ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Thursday

OTTAWA — Prince William and Kate introduced themselves to Canadians like a pair of charming and elegant foreign cousins, spending Day One of their first official overseas visit engaging throngs of delighted fans.

The Duke of Cambridge has been to Canada before, but this was his new wife’s first visit, not only to this country but to North America. It was a highly anticipated affair, the first big foray in public since their wedding in April.

Legions of foreign reporters documented every step — and Kate’s every wardrobe change — snapping pictures that will be plastered across the front pages of tabloids and inside commemorative editions for weeks.

Prince William summed up the convivial tone of the trip in remarks delivered partway through the day at Rideau Hall — expressing gratitude that this “adventure” would be done in the company of “the great Canadian family.”

“Catherine and I are so delighted to be here in Canada, instilled in us by our parents and grandparents, who loved this country. We’ve been looking forward to this moment for a very long time,” he told roughly 6,000 onlookers.

“And before we were married, we had a longing to come here together.”

The weather co-operated for the first part of their post-honeymoon journey.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird greeted them as they left a Canadian military plane about 2 p.m. ET under sunny skies and beach-like breezes.

William wore a blue suit with burgundy tie; Kate was in nude heels with matching clutch and a dark, form-fitting, knee-length lace dress by Montreal-born designer Erdem Moralioglu, her cascading brown hair pinned partly back.

Even at the government airport outside the city centre, a small crowd had gathered at least two football fields away to catch a distant glimpse of the couple through a security fence.

“This is more intimate, rather than be with a million people,” said local resident Irene Nagle. “And this is their actual arrival. It was important to me because when Di was here I was too young so this is a special moment for me.”

Nine-year-old Kellen Schleyer had a much closer vantage point, as he waited in his wheelchair on the tarmac with the dignitaries. He presented the duchess with a bouquet that included thistle, the symbol of Scotland.

She bent down to ask him about the chain of office he wore, having been designated deputy mayor by Ottawa’s Jim Watson.

Liberal MP David McGuinty said he thanked Kate for choosing Canada for this first trip as a married couple.

“She said she was honoured and spoiled to be here,” said McGuinty, whose riding includes the airport.

Gatineau, Que., Mayor Marc Bureau said he greeted the couple in French and the duchess replied in French that it was a pleasure.

“I think French classes have served her well,” Bureau said, adding that he briefly discussed with William their mutual concern for the environment.

The visit began quietly enough, with a wreath-laying and book-signing before the pair began a walkabout among the thousands of people lining the memorial square. The crowd, which began assembling in the early morning and featured many Americans, extended a few blocks down adjacent Elgin Street, past the National Arts Centre.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and wife Laureen accompanied the royals along a red carpet to the towering memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A lone bugler played “The Last Post” as the group and surrounding crowds stood in silence. The tribute was followed by the skirl of bagpipes, then cheers.

Phone booths, benches and concrete flower beds had been claimed by those craning for a view over the hordes. Almost everyone seemed to have cellphone cameras at the ready for the obligatory Facebook or Twitter post.

“Their Royal Highnesses will experience first-hand the beauty and rich diversity of all regions of our great country. The time they will spend in (Canada) will showcase that there has never been a more exciting time to be Canadian,” Harper said in a statement.

The couple spent part of their walkabout with veterans, each shaking hands and chatting individually with the green-, black- and burgundy-capped seniors. The Peace Tower bells chimed 3 p.m. ET as they stayed on well past their appointed departure time.

It was clear who many of the mostly female crowd had come to see.

“Kate! Kate! Kate!” they chanted, even as Prince William went to shake hands.

The duchess, who only began her royal life a few months ago, seemed at ease approaching the shrieking, waving throngs. She smiled broadly throughout the entire day, chatting easily with her fans and thanking them for the dozens of gifts they pushed at her.

Kate appeared so self-assured as she strode along a security fence, Prince William eventually left her side to strike off on his own to greet another section of the crowd at the memorial.

It was a contrast with the slightly shy and sometimes overwhelmed demeanour of her late mother-in-law, Diana, on her first trip to Canada in 1983. But so too did the Duke of Cambridge break with his father’s style, which is much more reserved.

By the time they left, the Duke and Duchess were already nearly 10 minutes late for the next appearance — an official welcome at Government House hosted by Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

The scene was much the same — 6,000-plus lined the entrance to the palatial mansion as the couple abandoned their motorcade to shake hands and receive gifts along the treed driveway.

Twins Annika and Alice Fleming, 7, had gotten up at 3 a.m. back in April to watch the royal wedding. They arrived at Rideau Hall in matching rose-print dresses, carrying cards that read “For Prince Charming” and pink and white flowers.

The girls gave huge gap-tooth smiles as they recounted the moment Prince William made his way over to their spot on the barricade.

“He said he really liked our hats,” said Alice.

The crowd at Rideau Hall repeatedly broke out in cheers followed by bursts of flag-waving. Kate had to be nudged by accompanying handlers to catch up with her husband for the official part of the stop, as she shook a few more hands.

Prince William made brief remarks in both of Canada’s official languages, joking at one point that his French would improve “as we go along.”

“The geography of Canada is unsurpassed, and famous for being matched only by the hospitality of its peoples. We’re so very excited to have this opportunity to experience both and learn much more about this amazing country,” he said, as Kate beamed nearby.

About 200 VIPs flanked the podium. Women far outnumbered men at that event too. Little girls and older ones sported the latest craze in headwear — fascinator headpieces, many homemade. The delicate, frivolous head decorations, often adorned with feathers, have taken off since making an appearance at the couple’s wedding April 29.

Later, the couple attended a reception for young Canadians on the grounds of the Governor General’s residence.

Due to rain, the event planned for the terrace of Rideau Hall was delayed and moved indoors to the Tent Room, so-called because it once was an actual tent.

The casual reception was a celebration of young Canadians and about 100 were selected to attend to honour their community service. The savouries and sweets on the menu featured ingredients harvested from all corners of Canada and put together by a team of chefs.

Three young women and two men ranging in age from 17 to 31 were selected to form the receiving line to greet the royal couple, the Harpers, Johnston and his wife, Sharon.

The Governor General entered first, wearing a tweed jacket and leading the way down the line.

Kate followed, wearing a black and white bird dress by British-based label Issa, along with black espadrilles. Prince William wore a blue button down shirt slightly open at the collar, khakis and brown loafers.

They were followed by the prime minister and his wife.

Each took a few moments to speak one-by-one with the greeters, but protocol dictates the substance of their conversations can’t be reported.

William put his arm around his wife’s waist to guide her down the line. As they lingered to chat with 18-year-old Taylor Quinn from B.C., an aide had to come and tell them they needed to move on.

Kate and the prime minister were then escorted to a round table where they chatted with a small group. William and the Governor General were escorted to a different table to mingle.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spend a little over two days in Ottawa — including Friday’s Canada Day activities — before travelling to Montreal, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Yellowknife and Calgary.

More than 1,300 journalists have been accredited to cover the royal tour, including more than 200 from countries other than Canada.

That’s far more than the 20 foreign journalists who came along for the Queen’s visit to Canada last summer. This year’s international contingent hails from 13 different countries, including Qatar, Japan, India and China.

The royal couple’s presence is expected to draw even larger-than-usual crowds to Friday’s annual Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill.

In a Harris-Decima poll conducted for The Canadian Press, 77 per cent of respondents said they were aware that William and Kate were visiting Canada. A similar survey the previous year found only 55 per cent of respondents aware of the Queen’s impending visit.

Not everyone is excited at the prospect of the visit, however.

Many Canadians grumbled on Twitter about all the fuss. Protests are expected at some stops along the tour; a small group of people is planning to strum guitars and wave placards outside a citizenship ceremony Friday to protest the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Queen.

In Quebec, the little-known Quebec Resistance Network is planning a protest against the monarchy.

Animal-rights activists opposed to the Calgary Stampede are also liable to make an appearance when William and Kate kick off the Stampede Parade festivities.

— with files from Stephanie Levitz and Terry Pedwell.