William and Kate thrill Canada Day crowds

Prince William and wife Kate are honoured on Parliament Hill during Canada Day festivities, appearing there twice while enjoying colourful pageantry and performances from some of the country's best musicians and singers.

'The sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered,' prince tells crowd

Prince William and wife Kate were honoured on Parliament Hill during Canada Day festivities on Friday, appearing there twice while enjoying colourful pageantry and performances from some of the country's best musicians and singers.

An estimated 300,000 people, many of whom began gathering on the Hill in Ottawa hours before the ceremonies' post-noon start, were in the downtown core of the city as well as on Parliament Hill as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continued the second day of their nine-day tour of Canada.

William, in a navy suit and red tie, and Kate, wearing truly Canadian colours — a creamy white Reiss dress, a jewelled maple-leaf brooch on loan from the Queen, a fancy red hat from Lock and Co. adorned with a fabric maple leaf, and red shoes — repeatedly waved and acknowledged the crowd saluting Canada's 144th birthday during their afternoon appearance.

Following speeches by Canadian dignitaries, the prince told onlookers, speaking in French at first, that he was excited to have an opportunity to get to know Canadians better.

In English, he added, "I'm excited to be able to share this with Catherine," mentioning that her grandfather had trained in Alberta as a young pilot during the Second World War.

"To be here on Canada Day — a day of unity, a day of coming together as families, and as a nation — is even more special for us." ‬

William said his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, also asked him to convey her "warmest" wishes to the people of Canada. "The Queen has taken a great interest in the themes and program of our tour, and looks forward to following our progress as it unfolds.‬‪"

The Duke of Cambridge emphasized the important focus on Canada Day of the Canadian Forces, which is ceasing its combat role in Afghanistan within the next year.

"Our Armed Forces have always led the world in rallying to the defence of freedom," he said. "From Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, through Korea and the Balkans to Kandahar province, the sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered and respected."

Couple reappears for evening show 

The royal couple stayed for nearly two hours, then reappeared for the evening show, with Kate wearing her hair up and a purple Issa jersey dress. William wore a dark blazer with a white button-down shirt open at the collar.

They walked in via the east side of the VIP section, visible in person to only a few, but seen via giant television screens by thousands.

At that point, the crowd seemed briefly more intent on focusing their cell phones and cameras on the couple than on the concert.

The royal pair smiled and chatted with each other after they took their seats in the front row while a drum troupe performed on stage.

They were the centre of attention once more when Newfoundland's superstar band Great Big Sea took the stage and gave them yet another shout-out.

"Put your hands up, put your hands up," said lead singer Alan Doyle. "We're in the presence of royalty."

Even William and Kate obliged, clapping along with the east-coast standard Lukey's Boat.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive on Parliament Hill in a landau for Friday's Canada Day celebrations. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

Anyone in the crowd who managed to stake out a decent spot had arrived overnight. Many suspended flags or signs on the security fence that read "Smile if you like Canada" and "Will and Kate: Worth the wait."

Madison, 18, drove up from her home near Toronto with her mother and sister. They stayed overnight in a hotel and got up before 4 a.m. to hold prime locations at the corner near where the royals got out of their car.

"It's really special," she said. "We came here not only to celebrate Canada Day on Parliament Hill but to see the royals."

The royal couple greeted many members of the crowd before leaving to enjoy some free time before the evening's festivities.

Canada's 'unbreakable link' to the past

In the morning, Will and Kate helped honour 25 new Canadian citizens at a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.

To launch the afternoon extravaganza outside the Canadian government offices in Ottawa, opera singer Julie Nesrallah sang God Save the Queen, with William and Kate singing along, opening an entertaining and awe-inspiring stage show featuring fiddlers, singers and acrobats. Canada’s famous Snowbirds aerobatics team also flew by overhead twice.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the crowd more than halfway through the extravagant stage show that Canada is only starting to realize its full potential, calling it "the best country in the world." He lauded the "unbeatable spirit" that has led Canada out of the recession.

"We are especially blessed because we have very special guests," he added about William and Kate. "They are the young newlyweds, the best known in the world, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge."

The couple represents "our unbreakable link" to the past and promise for the future, he said, a tribute that led to loud cheers and clapping from the crowd.

Heritage Minister James Moore told the audience that it's important to recognize how united Canada has become despite the challenges over the years. He noted that Canada Day falls on a Friday, and pointed out that wearing red on Fridays has become a symbolic gesture to show respect for the men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces.

"You are the bravest and the best, we are proud of your service and we are honoured by the work that you do for Canada," he said in a message to Canada's troops.

Diana would have been 50 on Canada's 144th

The royal couple is fresh off a full day of events Thursday, when they were greeted by dignitaries and thousands of adoring fans after arriving in Canada for a nine-day tour.

The significance of Friday's date is also surely be on the mind of the prince for another reason — his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, wouldhave turned 50.

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William, who turned 29 on June 21, was last in Canada when he was15 years old. 

Although he speaks rarely about his mother in public, he carries on Diana's legacy by continuing her charity work and travels. As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge prepared for Canada Day in Ottawa, admirers of Diana gathered outside Kensington Palace in London, leaving cards, a cake and other gifts at the gates of her former residence Kensington Palace, 14 years after her death in a Paris car crash.

Critics question tour's expense

Not everyone in Canada is feeling the royal love.

Anti-royal sentiments — from mild annoyance to out-and-out vitriol — are emerging online, peppering the still overwhelmingly positive comments with snark.

"For you monarch lovers, they don't care about you nor do they do anything to improve your livelihood," a user called eurostudstandard wrote on the CBC's website.

"I'm Canadian and I choose democracy and liberty, not monarchy, so why do I have to spend my hard-earned money to accommodate two couples of complete insignificance to me and my country?"

Most of the negative online comments expressed resentment at the money being spent on the royal visit. Heritage Canada is spending $1.2 million on the tour, not including security costs.

"Waste of taxpayers' money on both sides of the pond," internet commenter XYZ wrote. "Are these two folks that poor that they can't pay for their vacation? If you can't afford it, stay where you are!"

A crowd of thousands started gathering on Parliament Hill as early as 9:30 a.m. Friday in anticipation of the royal couple's afternoon arrival for Canada Day ceremonies. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press