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Robust patriotism and royal mania in Ottawa on Canada Day

Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, arrive at a Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, Friday, July 1, 2011.

AP Photo / Charlie Riedel/AP Photo / Charlie Riedel

The skies were unrelentingly brilliant, the crowds massive and the Prince and his wife resplendent. These were Canada Day celebrations like no other - not least because of the robust patriotism on display.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper began by crediting the "unbeatable spirit" of Canadians for leading the country out of the depths of the global recession "to the best position in the world." It sounded more like a speech on the hustings and it may not have been the usual Canada Day theme for a prime minister, but it did receive a lot of cheers from the crowds on Parliament Hill.

Two other themes for the July 1 noon-time celebrations - "Change of Mission in Afghanistan" and "Citizenship" - are themes that have been emphasized by the Harper government.

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Prince William contributed on the military front, applauding Canadian soldiers for their efforts in Afghanistan as the combat mission comes to a close.

"Speaking of families and loved ones far away, this is an important moment for Canada," the Prince said. "This draws to a close an episode of which all Canadians can be immensely proud. Our armed forces have always led the world in rallying to the defence of freedom. From Vimy Ridge to Juno Beach through Korea and the Balkans to Kandahar province, the sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered and respected."

He was repeatedly interrupted by loud cheers and applause from the estimated crowd of 300,000 jammed onto the Hill and beyond, in sweltering heat.

There were video testimonials from new Canadians to stress the citizenship theme. They spoke of the opportunities and promise of Canada, and the tolerance of a country that allows the "freedom to worship."

"I am a free Canadian," one woman boldly declared.

But Prince William was the star of the show, and passed on greetings from his grandmother, "the Queen of Canada."

He noted that his wife, Catherine, learned about Canada from her late grandfather, who as a young pilot in the Second World War, trained in Alberta.

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As he did when he and Catherine arrived Thursday for their nine-day visit, the Prince made some of his remarks in French:

"Bonne fête, Canada. Happy birthday, Canada," he said.

Catherine, meanwhile, was beaming - although her makeup was melting slightly from the heat - throughout the two-hour celebrations, which featured performances by artists from across the country.

Known for recycling her clothes - wearing a dress more than once - Catherine chose a cream-coloured dress by Reiss, a London High Street chain store. She had worn the dress before for her engagement pictures.

In honour of the day, she wore a diamond Maple Leaf brooch, lent to her by the Queen, who wore it as a princess when she visited Canada for her first time in 1951.

And Catherine's red hat featured some Canadian whimsy with maple leafs springing from the top of it.

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The royal couple arrived on Parliament Hill by horse-drawn landau after attending a citizenship ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.

Everywhere they went they were surrounded by crowds and cries of "Will and Kate, Will and Kate, Will and Kate." Many people stayed up all night on the Hill to secure front-row positions for the walkabout by the couple.

And they didn't disappoint. More than a few of the royal watchers were overcome by emotion after Prince William stopped to chat or Catherine went by.

Glynis Hilton had tears in her eyes explaining how Prince William had come over to speak to her and her daughter, after spotting the Welsh flag she had draped over a barrier.

He and Catherine live in Wales.

"It's such an experience," said Mrs. Hilton, whose family background is Welsh. "I'm so taken with how spontaneous he was and how genuine. There is no artifice ... he was just very happy obviously."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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