Journalist Michael Valpy talks about the impact of Prince William and wife Kate's nine-day tour of Canada
After a nine-day tour that delighted them and showed off the country from east to west, north to south, Prince William and his wife Kate bid farewell to Canada on Friday afternoon, departing from Calgary airport for California.
Just before the royal couple got on the plane, Kate was given flowers by Frances Miller, an Alberta woman who finally got to live out a dream that had been on hold for 72 years.
Miller, 81, was chosen to present a bouquet to Queen Elizabeth, William’s great-grandmother, during a brief stop in Walsh, Alta., on a train tour through Canada in 1939 with her husband, King George VI. But for some reason that was never fully explained, the train rumbled on through instead.
Miller got her second chance when her story was brought to the attention of tour organizers. In a blue dress, standing under the left wing of the Canadian Forces Airbus A310 that would carry the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to L.A., Miller handed the flowers to Kate.
"I never, ever in my wildest dreams ever thought anything like this would happen," Miller said.
Just before the final moments on the airport tarmac, the royal couple took part in a solemn departure ceremony at Calgary Rotary Challenger Park, where they laid a wreath at a wall with images of Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan and saw a 21-gun salute. The prince inspected the guard of honour before a band played O Canada.
An audience of 3,100 members of the public were at the farewell ceremony, some of whom had lined up overnight earlier in the week to obtain free wristbands that let them attend. They saw the royal couple shake hands with and greet the families of Canada's fallen soldiers from the Afghan mission. Some of those people started arriving two hours early to get prime spots to watch the ceremony.
In a news release, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the royal tour a "tremendous success."
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"It has been a privilege for Canada to host the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge," Harper said. "This is the beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship — one of deep affection and loyalty — and we look forward to sharing more of our splendid country with them on their next royal tour."
Earlier Friday, William and Kate visited the Calgary Zoo for a presentation on science and technology. Lt.-Gov. Donald Ethell, former lieutenant-governor and Canadian Football Hall of Famer Normie Kwong and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach attended, as did a crowd of royal watchers waving Canadian, British and Alberta flags.
For the zoo visit, William and Kate changed out of the cowpoke garb they sported earlier when officially launching the Calgary Stampede into more formal wear. She wore a scarlet coat-dress, and he was back in a navy suit jacket.
In their first public duty in the morning, Will gave the 99th annual Calgary Stampede parade a royal touch. Both decked out in white cowboy hats and blue jeans with large belt buckles, the royal couple travelled the parade route in a motorcade before joining Harper and parade marshal Rick Hansen at Bow Valley College at 8:50 a.m. MT for the opening.
With a push of the klaxon — the horn traditionally used to start the chuckwagon races — William and Kate officially launched the parade and the 2011 Stampede.
There was no walkabout to mingle with the crowds, at which some people were disappointed, but the royal couple did take their place in the stands to watch the parade.
"The biggest challenge will be moving them around in big crowds ... making sure their movement can be done quickly," Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson said before the event.
The pair headed to California following their nine-day Canadian tour, a visit that the prince said on Thursday "far surpassed all that we were promised. Our promise to Canada is that we shall return."
The energetic participation by the couple is unprecedented for a royal tour. Paul Harrison, royal correspondent for Britain's Sky Television, said he's never seen anything like it.
"It's just intense in terms of how much they are doing and getting involved. Their interactive side of things I've never seen before."
In Los Angeles, William and Kate will stay at the home of the British consul-general near West Hollywood. Their three-day itinerary includes a ball Saturday night.
To stymie paparazzi, seven neighbours surrounding the consul-general's home in the tony Hancock Park neighbourhood have signed on to enforce a strict no-trespassing edict on their properties, and have even rejected cash offers from tabloids wanting to deploy photographers in their yards. Police said they will arrest anyone lining up for a telephoto-lens shot from their lawns.
Elsewhere in the city, the Los Angeles Police Department will be cordoning off streets around each site the couple visits, preventing photographers from from getting close enough to snap candid shots.
William and Kate got their official welcome to Calgary on Thursday afternoon after spending the night at a remote backcountry cabin in Banff National Park.
On Thursday evening, the couple arrived by stagecoach to a cheering crowd at the Stampede grounds for an event hosted by the government of Canada. Their new "westernized" clothing included a plaid green, button-up shirt for William and a white western blouse for Kate.
Greeted by the prime minister and his wife, Laureen, who were also decked out in cowboy hats and western attire, the royal couple were shown how to load a chuckwagon. William briefly took the reins of the horses as he was shown how to drive the chuckwagon.
They also watched a bull riding demonstration, with William climbing up on a fence to help hold the bull rope for the rider. The couple had been urged not to participate in rodeo events by animal-rights groups that say those activities exploit and harm the bulls and horses. Bull riding has been banned in the United Kingdom since 1934, the British League Against Cruel Sports pointed out.
Inside at a reception, Harper thanked the couple for helping to celebrate Canada Day on Parliament Hill, saying there hadn't been such a love-in since the first visitof the Beatles.
"Indeed everywhere you went, you left a trail of utterly charmed Canadians in your wake," Harper said.
As a gift to the couple, Harper announced the creation in their honour of the Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors Program, which will see two young Canadians chosen every summer to travel the country visiting national parks and historic sites.