The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have no doubt been briefed about Canada’s “two solitudes” and, in their back-to-back visits to Ottawa and Montréal, they got a vivid illustration of just how vast the French-English chasm can be.
After massive adoring crowds in the nation’s capital on Friday, the royal couple were greeted by more hostile and modest crowds just a couple of hours down the road on Saturday.
At their two public appearances in Montréal, at Sainte-Justine Hospital and the Quebec Tourism and Hotel Institute, Prince William and his bride Catherine were met with loud chants of “down with the monarchy” from a small group of radical separatists, and valiant ripostes of “Will and Kate, Will and Kate” from a slightly larger, but more restrained group of federalists.
Because of the protests, security whisked the pair quickly from their limousine into private receptions. There were no walkabouts, no handshakes and barely time for a smile.
“It was really, really disappointing,” said Jessica Ma, a Montrealer who waited more than three hours in blistering 28 C heat and barely got a glimpse of the Duchess from her front-row perch at Sainte-Justine. “She didn’t even wave or anything.”
Outside the downtown cooking school, security was even more oppressive, with police cordoning off the road and the riot squad being deployed to keep protesters and well-wishers alike almost a block away.
The crowd was a strange mixture of little girls in their Sunday finest and seniors waving pictures of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, alongside tattooed, pierced youth brandishing signs festooned with slogans like “Monarchy: Nobody Voted For That” – the groups united only by their anger at being kept far way from the Duke and Duchess.
Seemingly, the only person who came away happy was Mikayla Neves, a 10-year-old Montreal girl who was plucked from the crowd and allowed to present Catherine with a bouquet. “I’m going to tell all my friends I was on TV,” she said.
While Prince William and Catherine ignored the crowds outside, they spent an hour touring the neonatology and cancer wards of Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital and then met privately with four patients and their families. In that meeting, both young royals made an effort to speak in French.
Vincent Grenier, a 10-year-old patient in the hematology and cancer ward, told reporters that Prince William told him “Tu es fort” (you’re strong) and Catherine, when presented with one of his drawings, responded “C’est super.”
The Duchess, who wowed the crowds with her elegant outfits in Ottawa, dressed more conservatively in Montréal. She wore a grey wool Kensington dress by Catherine Walker, a favourite designer of Diana. The choice was symbolic because the designer died of cancer last year. Prince William wore a navy khaki suit.
For their cooking class, the couple donned white chef’s jackets for a brief cooking course and then feasted on a luxurious meal featuring local ingredients, including Lake Brome duck, Îles-de-la-Madeleine lobster, and Charlevoix lamb, along with Québec wines and Inuit tea.
They were then travelling overnight to Québec City aboard the HMCS Montréal, a navy frigate that the British media dubbed the Love Boat.
Yesterday’s protests were organized by the Réseau de résistance du Québécois, a marginal group of separatists who have made a name for themselves protesting during royal visits.
Dominique Beaulieu, one of the leaders of the group, said the Duke and Duchess were “parasites” because the money spent on their tour could be better spent on healthcare and education.
But there were also monarchists in the crowd, including Gary Sims, who waved a flag emblazoned with a photo of Prince William and Catherine and a t-shirt bearing the image of Queen Elizabeth.
“They don’t know their history,” he said of the protesters. “If it wasn’t for the British influence in North America, there would be no French at all.”
But Mr. Sims he has no problem with the protest itself. “It’s a democracy. As long as they’re peaceful, it’s fine,” he said.
But Brigitte Lefebvre, a sovereigntist who came to see the couple “because they’re cute and famous” was a lot less forgiving.
“Those people are a disgrace,” she said of the protesters. “They make Quebeckers look rude and backwards. We should be better hosts than this.”
More protests are expected Sunday in Quebec City, where the royal couple is slated to visit a hostel for street youth, City Hall and the old fort at Lévis Forts national historical site.