British Columbia

Will and Kate visit mothers of Sheway in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

It was a stark juxtaposition — the fans of Prince William and Kate gathered with the more usual denizens of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to await the royal couple.

At centre for mothers with addiction and mental health issues, tea and royal sympathy

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge receive teddy bears from five-year-old Hailey Cain during a tour of Sheway, a centre that provides health and support for pregnant women and women with infants who are dealing with drug and alcohol issues. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It was a stark juxtaposition — the fans of Prince William and Kate gathered with the more usual denizens of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to await the royal couple.

Those who were hoping for a glimpse of William and Kate carried posters and wore tiaras, while others who live in this neighbourhood meandered out of apartments and rooming houses to join the crowd.

"They are acknowledging us and I think that is a great thing," said Rod Chute, as he lit a cigarette while waiting for the motorcade to arrive.

Sheway manager Patti Zettel and the mothers shared bannock, cookies, and tea with the royals. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

"There is a lot of poverty down here. It is a little rougher."

Chute adds that like others who live on E Hastings he is just getting by "with the skin of his teeth," which is why it is a real honour to see the royals in person.

Royal arrival

The initial glimpse was brief one. When the convoy arrived, Prince William and Kate shook just a few hands before quickly entering Sheway, an outreach centre for pregnant women and new mothers who struggle with mental health issues and addiction.

Amanda Nippi, a mother of five children as well as newborn still in the hospital, has been living at Sheway for two years and is now 10 months sober. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

It was modelled after a centre in Glasgow, Scotland, which was officially opened in 1990 by Princess Diana, William's mother. Many saw today's visit as particularly poignant because it showed that Will and Kate are striving to carry on Diana's legacy.

Before Sheway opened in 1993, officials say  babies born on the Downtown Eastside  were frequently taken into government care at birth.

Today about 75 per cent of the babies born in this area are able to leave hospital with their mothers.

Rod Chute, who lives in the area, said it's great that the royals are acknowledging the people who live in the Downtown Eastside. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Tea and biscuits with 4 mothers

During their  45-minute visit to Sheway, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge learned about the medical and nutritional support given at the centre. With cameras rolling, they watched as a doctor and nurse weighed a baby and as kitchen staff and some of the mothers prepared baked bannock and chocolate chip cookies

At the end of their tour, they sat down for tea and biscuits with four mothers, including  Amanda Nippi, a mother of five children as well as newborn still in the hospital.

"There is no words," she said when asked to describe what it was like to be able to tell William and Kate her story.

People gathered outside the building to welcome the royals to town. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

She has been working with Sheway for two  years and is now 10 months sober.

At the end of the visit she gave the royal couple an eagle feather to symbolize honour and respect.

"We have come a long way," she said of all the mothers in the program.

"And we will continue to because somebody hears us."

About the Author

Briar Stewart is a senior reporter with CBC News. For more than a decade, she has been covering stories for television, radio and online. She is based in Vancouver and can be reached at briar.stewart@cbc.ca or on Twitter @briarstewart