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The Queen waves from the deck of the frigate HMCS St. John's as she sails past one of the 28 warships in Halifax Harbour on Tuesday. (Paul Darrow/Reuters/Paul Darrow/Reuters)
The Queen waves from the deck of the frigate HMCS St. John's as she sails past one of the 28 warships in Halifax Harbour on Tuesday. (Paul Darrow/Reuters/Paul Darrow/Reuters)

Queen

Aye, aye, Ma'am Add to ...

The ranks of warships massed in Halifax kindled instant memories of vessels forming up for dangerous wartime convoy runs. But on Tuesday, instead of heading to the aid of a beleaguered Britain, they were gathered in honour of a monarch who had come to them.

The Queen was welcomed aboard a Canadian frigate with the shrill tweet of a bosun's pipe, with gun smoke from a royal salute rolling over the water and helicopters thudding over the ships lined up to be reviewed.

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Originally reserved for wartime mobilization or as a warning to enemies, fleet reviews have become ceremonial occasions. The first in Canada was performed in 1958 by Princess Margaret.

Most of the second day of Queen Elizabeth's Canadian tour had a distinctly nautical flavour. Prince Philip presented an award to the destroyer HMCS Haida, which fought in two wars, and the Queen honoured HMCS Sackville, the last surviving corvette to have done Atlantic convoy duty. But the day was highlighted by the fleet review, a ritualistic display of military might going back centuries.

Twenty-nine ships from eight countries were lined up in Halifax harbour and the Bedford basin. Among them were 11 Canadian ships, including frigates, a destroyer and a submarine. The collective show of strength was powerful imagery in a city that values its close relationship with the navy, which is celebrating its centennial.

Foreign ships included the Danish flagship Absalon, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the carrier-like American amphibious assault craft, the USS Wasp.

Queen Elizabeth, who last did a fleet review in Canada 25 years ago, passed Tuesday among their ranks aboard HMCS St. John's. The 134-metre frigate has served in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Caribbean.

As the Queen and Prince Philip approached the first ship, HMCS Charlottetown, that frigate's crew began firing the royal salute. As they pulled alongside, Canadian sailors lining the rails doffed their hats in unison and gave three cheers.

The royal couple watched from a protected stand aboard the St. John's. Philip was wearing a Canadian Navy uniform complete with sword, the first time he had donned the uniform, according to tour organizers, and the Queen was clad in a navy hat decorated with a white bow and a long white coat with blue accents.

Both rose from their seats as they passed each ship.

A BBC reporter doing a stand-up on the chase boat carrying media marvelled that, after all the military reviews the Queen has done, "so far as one can tell, she still seems to enjoy it."

On the water, old rivalries and ancient enmities were put aside. The French and Germans responded as enthusiastically as the others. American sailors continued to line the rails of their ships in the chilly wind until well after the royal vessel had passed on.

The review ended with HMCS Athabaskan, the flagship of the Atlantic fleet, which fired another 21-gun salute.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, commander of Canada's navy, told reporters. "We were a little nervous yesterday with the weather and the heavy rains ... but it was a perfect day to show those ships to their best effect."

The royal couple landed on the Halifax waterfront, where more than 1,000 people had gathered to greet them. It was a better turnout than Monday, when pouring rain helped keep the crowd for their arrival in the mid hundreds.

The Queen and Prince Philip's nine-day tour through Canada will take them to Ottawa next. The Queen will take part in Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, speaking to the crowd just after 1 p.m. EDT Thursday. From Ottawa, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh travel on to Winnipeg and then southern Ontario.

Follow on Twitter: @moore_oliver

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