With each whistlestop meticulously arranged, each event carefully considered, the message sent in the royal tour's final stop looms large – Calgary is, ever more, a hub of Canadian influence.
The royal couple arrived Thursday afternoon in the city for the final two days of their Canadian tour. And, over the complaints of British animal activists, they came during the Calgary Stampede, a cherished tradition that one poll Thursday showed was Canada's most popular major event, beating the Grey Cup and Toronto International Film Festival.
As the couple arrived, Calgary's streets were already flooded with boots, hats and denim. William and Kate quickly got into the festivities.
Wearing jeans and white cowboy hats, they trailed a procession into a Stampede gala dinner Thursday evening while riding in a carriage pulled by four horses. They watched a bull-riding demonstration and Will tried his hand at loading a chuckwagon before heading inside to listen to live country music and watch two-stepping.
"Well, this is different," he said when he took the stage a short while later.
In his final address of their country-wide tour, he had praise for Canada's broad heritage, its military efforts, its kindness and its significance to other members of the Royal family.
“We have been hugely struck by the diversity of this beautiful country: from Ottawa to Quebec; from Prince Edward Island to the Northwest Territories; and now the excitement of Calgary," he said, before moving off his pre-written script: "And what about these fantastic white hats?”
The crowd cheered, and did several times, including when William praised the work of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and when cabinet minister James Moore thanked the couple for visiting the fire-ravaged Alberta city of Slave Lake a day earlier.
"We are intensely proud of their (soldiers') sacrifices and immensely grateful. Catherine and I are also full of admiration for the tremendous courage and resilience of the people we met yesterday at Slave Lake, as they rebuild their lives after the devastating fire," the Duke said.
The Stampede itself, the cowboy culture it evokes and the wide-open terrain of the region were all themes tied strongly to the royal schedule, one that didn't include visits to either the British Columbia Lower Mainland or the Greater Toronto Area. Calgary brands itself the Heart of the New West, a sentiment evoked by Prime Minister (and Calgarian) Stephen Harper in his speech to the couple Thursday evening.
“There’s a lot going on here. You may suppose from what you see around you that this is cowboy country. So it is,” Mr. Harper said. “But Alberta has also become an economic engine of Confederation."
Mr. Harper thanked the couple for visiting Canada in their first international trip since their marriage. Canadians, the Prime Minister said, will be forever grateful.
"We haven’t seen a love-in like that since the first visit of the Beatles," he said, adding: "By the time you reached Yellowknife and joined a hockey game, it was clear for all to see that you have all the makings of true Canadians."
Calgary-born country singer Paul Brandt performed for the couple Thursday evening. He said the visit was significant for his hometown.
“I think it's a bit of a well-kept secret and all of the sudden, it's hard to keep it any more. So I think that possibly, in some ways, this is a really exciting coming of age for the city, and I couldn't be more proud to be from here,” he said.
“They're going to get to experience Western heritage in a very unique way, and I'm proud to be able to be an ambassador for that. “ The Prime Minister announced Canada's official gift to the couple - the The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors Program, celebrating the Parks Canada centennial and aimed at drawing younger generations through the gates. The Royal Couple resumed its public schedule Thursday in Calgary after spending a private evening at the remote Skoki Lodge near Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains.
It was upon arrival at the airport that they were given their white cowboy hats, a ceremonial tradition during Stampede time. Catherine, wearing a yellow dress whipped by high winds, greeted six-year-old cancer patient Diamond Marshall, whose request of the Children’s Wish Foundation was to meet a princess.
Catherine spoke with the girl, who lost her mother to cancer four years earlier, for several minutes on the tarmac.
“Diamond was just jumping like a bean, she was so excited,” father Lyall Marshall said.
The royals were shown a lesser-known side of Calgary, too – touring a University of Calgary health research centre. And at the airport, they were greeted by the local MLA Darshan Kang, local MP Devinder Shory and Mayor Naheed Nenshi – a sampling, the mayor pointed out, of the city's diversifying population.
"The Canadian family is another of the abiding memories that will stay with Catherine and me," the Duke said. "Canada is not just a great union of provinces and territories, it is a great union of peoples from many different backgrounds who have come together to make this a model - and a magnet - for those who value freedom, enterprise, tolerance and compassion. A country where all can get on individually - and yet all can get on as a national community."
In that wide-ranging appeal is where Calgarians see their city's strength.
“It's obviously a great pleasure and a great privilege that they were able to make time for us here, that they were able to make time at this great time of year when they see Calgary at its absolute best, and we're thrilled to have them,” Mr. Nenshi said.
“They're going to get a nice cross-section of the city over the last couple of days. They're going to learn a little bit about what we're doing in really advanced research and development … in health care and the energy sector and environmental sciences. And they're going to see me ride a horse. What could be better than that?”
The Royal Tour's second last day in Canada coincided with word that News of the World, a popular British weekly, would be shut down amid a phone-tapping scandal. The paper's royal correspondent, Robert Jobson, who also works in television, continued covering the tour and set off to its next destination, Los Angeles. "Just life, it happens," he tweeted.
The paper had a tense relationship with the entire Royal Family. The Royal Highnesses press secretary and spokesman, Miguel Head, declined to comment in an e-mail, but said after landing at Calgary's airport:
"We're not touching this one. It was the Prince and his brother that started this whole thing with their aides being tapped."
That controversy, however, was all overshadowed in Calgary by the Royal tour itself. Thousands lined the route the Royals' carriage took. Demonstrating the gracious touch Canadians have repeatedly praised them for throughout the tour, the Duke emphasized the country's ties to his family.
"In 1939, my great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, said of her first Tour of Canada with her husband, King George VI: 'Canada made us'. Catherine and I now know very well what she meant," William said. "Canada has far surpassed all that we were promised. Our promise to Canada is that we shall return. Thank you."