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Duke and Duchess of Cambridge begin Canadian tour with moment of reflection in Victoria

Britain's Prince William (L), Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George (2nd L) and Princess Charlotte arrive at the Victoria International Airport for the start of their eight day royal tour to Canada in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, September 24, 2016.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge began their Canadian tour on Saturday with a moment of reflection, laying a wreath at the foot of the granite-and-bronze war Memorial to the Unknown Soldier in the British Columbia capital.

Thousands of Victoria residents lined the streets and massed on the lawns of the Legislature to greet the royal couple, cheering and shouting "Love you, Kate" and waving Canadian flags. Some had been camped out at prime viewing spots for 12 hours, clutching bouquets of flowers they hoped to share with the Duchess.

But the festive crowd fell silent as Prince William and his wife, Catherine, bowed their heads at the Cenotaph. Just days ahead of this moment, the Cenotaph was altered for the first time in half a century: A bronze plaque now asks us to also remember the 159 Canadian soldiers who died in active service on the mission in Afghanistan among "our glorious dead."

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Read more: In visit to B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest, William and Kate recognize conversation effort

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Lt.-Col. Paul Paone (ret.) worked his way through the crowd to watch the Prince lay a wreath with fresh red roses at the foot of the Cenotaph. Dressed in his service uniform, Lt.-Col. Paone was one of the last Canadian soldiers to leave Afghanistan. "I came here to honour the people we served with – and the people we lost."

The royal couple then stopped and spoke with Canadian veterans including WWII veteran Gordon Quan, who exchanged a laugh with the Prince when he described his first encounter with a member of the Royal Family in 1939, when he was in cadets.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Wayne Clarke, who was deployed in Afghanistan in 2010, was "absolutely thrilled" to be included in the ceremony. "It means a lot for me personally, and I'm sure it means a lot for other men and women who went to Afghanistan," he said. "I hear a lot, 'Well, you are not a real veteran'… It's nice to be acknowledged. It was a war and what we did was significant."

The Prince and Catherine arrived late in the afternoon in Victoria with their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte. The family was greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor-General David Johnston, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark. The youngest royals will not make a public appearance until their final day in Canada, but could be seen leaving the aircraft, three-year-old George holding his father's hand while one-year-old Charlotte was in her mother's arms.

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Speaking at the Legislature, William thanked the crowd for the enthusiastic welcome. "Catherine and I are delighted to be back in Canada. When we were here last time, we had been married only three months. The warm welcome you gave us at that important time in our lives meant a lot to us," he said. "That is why we are so pleased that George and Charlotte can be with us in Canada this time around, beginning their own lifetime of friendship with this wonderful country."

He added: "Canada is a country that is esteemed for its strong values and for the great contribution it makes to peace, prosperity and human rights. This week we will witness much of ourselves through the diversity of the Canadian people, your pristine environment, your armed services and other public servants, as well as your arts and your culture."

Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, received an equally enthusiastic welcome from the crowd. After joking about the differences the royal couple will find as they travel now with their children, the Prime Minister added: "I know wherever you go, Canadians will make you feel right at home."

Mr. Trudeau invited the royal couple to visit Canada as the country prepares to marks its 150th year as a nation in 2017.

The royal couple are in B.C. and the Yukon for eight days, with over 30 events that will take them from Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside to remote First Nations communities.

William is expected to maintain the Royal Family's generations-long relationship with Canada's indigenous people on this visit, and will mark the visit with a special reconciliation event later in the week.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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