Spokesman for royals says they're 'in love' with Canada - protests included
QUEBEC - A spokesman for Prince William and Kate says the royal couple have "fallen in love" with Canada and even consider the protests against them an example of the country's characteristic complexity.
That diversity was on full display Sunday as the couple completed the two-day Quebec leg of their tour and landed in Prince Edward Island.
The weekend in Quebec began with protests that saw people chanting hostile slogans and occasionally making crude gestures at the royals' passing motorcade; on Sunday a pro-independence group even got a plane to fly overhead dragging the banner, "Vive le Quebec libre."
But that same visit ended with a scene of unbridled enthusiasm as hundreds of people cheered from a hilltop in suburban Quebec City, chanting William and Kate's names, pleading with them to shake their hands, and giving them flowers and at least one hand-made greeting card.
The weekend also saw the prince play table soccer at a Quebec City youth centre and engage in long, amicable chats with street kids; stuff cucumbers at a cooking class with Jean Charest and tease the premier for the lack of volume in his lobster souffle; and shake many, many outstretched hands.
This was after they were greeted by hundreds of thousands on Canada Day in Ottawa and spent the afternoon, alone, at the prime minister's idyllic country residence at Harrington Lake, Que.
"They've had a superb time so far," Miguel Head, the royals' press secretary, told The Canadian Press on Sunday.
"They've very much fallen in love with the country.
"They've enjoyed everything they've seen and they've been very bowled over by the warm welcome they've received everywhere."
As for the protests: "What they've seen in Quebec, (and) in Montreal the last two days is, for them, just part of the rich fabric of Canada and in no way detracts from how much they respect and admire the country."
He made the comments just before the royals arrived at an old fort in Levis, Que., where hundreds cheered loudly and chanted sentiments of love for the royal couple just before they left for Charlottetown.
Quebec-born Maryse Jolicoeur, who now lives in Westport, Conn., travelled north with her daughters — Anne Catherine Clark, 10, and her five-year-old sister Genevieve.
The girls gave Kate a white lily.
"This is historic," Jolicoeur said. "You don't often get to meet a princess. She was so nice. She took the time to speak to my two daughters."
The fluently bilingual Anne Catherine said Kate told her that she liked the flower in her hair. The little girl replied by telling Kate she was an inspiration — "because I (also) want to be a princess."
Nine-year-old Stella Torres of Quebec City was equally impressed. Her twin sister Victoria couldn't even speak after meeting Kate — she was waving at the couple, crying tears of joy.
They gave Kate a card saying, "Welcome to Quebec."
"We really liked meeting them,"said Stella. "She was very nice and very polite. She said thank you for the card. I wrote a poem and she wrote a message (Welcome to Quebec)."
Earlier in the day, Prince William delivered a speech where he hailed Quebecers' "vitality and vigour."
He made those remarks in a city where a key British military victory more than 250 years ago still resonates politically. William even made a stop at the Citadelle, the fortified residence at the foot of the Plains of Abraham battlefield where that victory over the French occurred.
William spoke only in French.
"It's an honour for me to be here with you in Quebec today," he said after inspecting members of the Royal 22e Regiment, commonly known as the Van Doos.
"For me, as a soldier and an airman, it is a privilege to have inspected a great regiment like the Royal 22nd.
"Your reputation is as strong as it is legendary. This place has such beauty and history. You, the Quebecois et Quebecoises, have such vitality and vigour."
The couple then delighted the crowd by diving straight in and shaking hands with dozens of excited well-wishers — their first of two such walkabouts Sunday. They did not perform such public meet-and-greets Saturday, partly because of security concerns.
William and Kate's visit rankled many Quebec sovereigntists.
Many in Quebec see the monarchy not only as a colonial relic, but also as a reminder of ancestors who had their land conquered by the British army; they resent that the sovereign still serves as Canada's head of state.
On Sunday, a few hundred took to Quebec City streets to once again protest their presence in the province. The event went off peacefully, as did similar demonstrations the previous day.
"We do not recognize the authority, the legitimacy of the Crown, of the monarchy here in Quebec and it's not a national symbol for us," said Maxime Laporte of the Reseau de resistance du Quebecois.
"It's rather a symbol of imperialism, of war crimes against humanity, against our people."
Just like in Montreal, however, the anti-monarchy contingent was outnumbered by royal supporters or those just curious to see what all the fuss was about.
David Cheater, who moved to Quebec City from London a few years ago, was carrying a red and white English flag as he waited for his compatriots to show.
"I was surprised they (the royal couple) would be here," said the 28-year-old. "I thought they would only go to one city. When we heard they were coming to Quebec City, it was fantastic news."
Hannah Hoelscher and a friend drove up from Rutland, Vt., for the day's activities because the royals are "young and they're fun and they seem to really care about everyone."
The royals' day began with a prayer service aboard HMCS Montreal, which transported the couple down the St. Lawrence River from Montreal overnight.
Kate wore a blue lace Jacquenta dress by Canadian designer Erdem Moralioglu and changed later in the day into what was described as a skin "Vanessa," sleeveless crepe dress by designer Joseph.
She could be seen smiling at times during the service, while William looked more solemn.
Right Rev. Dennis Drainville, who helped preside over the religious service, said the royal couple's presence was significant.
"The Anglican Church, of course, shares a long history with the monarchy," Drainville said in an interview.
"So the prince's presence is important for all Anglicans."
About a dozen sailors presented a guard of honour as they left the vessel to head off to La Maison Dauphine, a shelter for streeth youth.
During that visit, the couple chatted with young people who managed to turn their life around. They also saw the youth perform magic tricks and a juggling routine and William played one of them to a 4-4 draw in a game of table soccer.
Kate high-fived one young man after a magic trick in which he managed to repeatedly escape from shackles around his arms.
Later on Sunday, the royals arrived in Prince Edward Island where several hundred people lined the entrance to the Charlottetown airport and near the tarmac, offering a loud, "Yay" when the couple's plane landed just before 7 p.m. AT.
Ten-year-old Sophia Best, wearing a multicoloured blue flowered sundress, presented flowers to the duchess moments after the couple stepped off the plane and worked their way down a line of dignitaries under clear blue skies and a gentle breeze.
Best shook William's hand after introducing herself and talked to the Duchess of Cambridge about her flight over the bucolic island known for its pristine beaches and the red-hued soil.
"Kate said she was so happy to be on this pretty little island and that, through the window of the plane, it looked really good," said Best, who won the chance to meet the royals in a local poster contest.
"It was so good. It's so amazing to do this."
Her friend, Bridget Keedwell, said the duchess knelt down and complimented her on her peach and pink sundress.
"I feel great," she said with a broad grin.
Shortly after, up to 2,500 people packed a boardwalk outside a seaside pub in the city's downtown to get a glimpse of the young couple, who spent about 40 minutes meeting journalists at an informal gathering.
Lisa Bates, 45, took a break from her vacation in New Brunswick to see the pair.
"It's pretty awesome," she said, moments after William and Kate climbed into a black limousine as the young and old chanted their names.