Prince William and his new wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, began their first official foreign trip as a married couple today in Canada -- a nine-day tour that includes road hockey and a visit to a cowboy rodeo.
The couple arrived in the capital city Ottawa and laid a wreath at the National War Memorial with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, then spent a half-hour chatting with veterans and people lining the streets before meeting Governor General David Johnston.
“We are truly looking forward to this adventure,” William said in a brief speech at Johnston’s official residence. Delivering about half his speech in French, he said, “we could not be better accompanied than by the great Canadian family,” then joked about his ability to speak French by saying “it will improve as we go on.”
William is second in line to the British throne and his April 29 marriage in London to Kate Middleton was seen by an estimated audience of 2 billion. William, 29, is the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and son of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, while the Duchess, 29, is the first woman from outside royalty or the aristocracy to marry so closely to the British throne in 350 years.
William is following in his great-grandparents’ footsteps during today’s visit to Ottawa. The war memorial was officially unveiled on May 21, 1939, by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during the first-ever Canadian visit by a reigning monarch.
‘Quite a Coup’
“They know they’re going to a generally warm welcome,” said Steve Hewitt, a lecturer in Canadian and American studies at Birmingham University in central England and editor of the Journal of Canadian Studies. “The Canadians think it’s quite a coup to have got them to Canada first.”
Tomorrow, the couple will attend events related to Canada Day, the anniversary of the country’s creation in 1867 under Queen Victoria. Crowds on Parliament Hill could top the 2008 total of 460,000 estimated by the National Capital Commission, which is responsible for promoting the Ottawa region. “We are always prepared for best possible crowd turnout,” said Denise LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the commission.
The government published a 106-page media guide for the tour, which will be covered by more than 1,400 journalists. Most downtown hotels in Ottawa sold out “many weeks ago,” said Ottawa Tourism spokeswoman Jantine Van Kregten. “The royal visit has sent interest through the roof.”
“It’s exciting because they’re our age,” said Ashley Thorvaldson, who turned 30 the day after the royal wedding and said that was “the ultimate template” for her peers. Thorvaldson, who brought a friend to see the couple, waited behind a barricade at the War Memorial for a chance to see them.
The royal tour through July 8 also encompasses the provinces of Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Alberta. “This is going to be perhaps the largest, most watched royal visit in Canada’s history,” Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore said at a June 21 press conference where the detailed schedule was released.
Moore said the Duchess is a fan of “Anne of Green Gables,” Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel, when he was asked about other special cultural side-trips the couple may take. The tour lists a stop at Dalvay By The Sea, a resort in Prince Edward Island that was used as a backdrop in a television series based on the book.
The couple will also visit the city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, where they will see a game of road hockey and drumming by local aboriginal groups.
‘Revive the Monarchy’
“They are balancing a number of youth-based events with the very historic engagements that members of the royal family have done for hundreds of years,” said Carolyn Harris, who is completing a doctoral thesis on perceptions of the British and French queens in the 17th and 18th centuries at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “There is a sense that William and Kate’s popularity could revive the monarchy in future generations,” she said.
Harris also said Canada was probably chosen because it’s a member of the British Commonwealth and has not had the level of criticism of the monarchy seen in countries such as Australia, which held a referendum on abolishing the institution in 1999.
The French-speaking province of Quebec is the only place where the couple isn’t sure of seeing friendly crowds, Birmingham University’s Hewitt said.
The trip ends in Calgary where the couple will open the city’s Stampede, one of the world’s largest cowboy rodeos, and another potential site of controversy. The Vancouver Humane Society, which calls the event “a spectacle of animal cruelty,” is asking the couple to boycott the stampede.
After the Canadian visit, William and the Duchess head to Los Angeles.
“The royal couple visiting some remarkable places in the country is something that I think is of great value to, not only to Canada’s image internationally, but also tourism,” Moore told reporters June 21. “This is their first visit, it will not be their last.”