Away from the media, cameras and politicians, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, met privately Monday with families of Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan.
The event was purposely not included on any public schedule, nor were there speeches. The gathering of about 50 people – young children and adults – at Government House in Halifax, spoke to the Prince’s support of the military, veterans and their families.
“It was something that they really wanted to do,” said a senior official of the “totally private” event.
The Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall, accompanied by two Canadian Forces personnel, went around the room and spoke individually to each family. There were tea and cookies, coffee and juice at the informal affair. Despite the sad circumstances for the meeting, people were excited to meet the Prince and his wife, according to the official.
Many of them wore Memorial Cross medals – the award given to the families of Canadian Forces members who died in service.
This was the first full day of the Prince and Camilla’s whirlwind visit to Canada. They were in Nova Scotia Monday and move on to Prince Edward Island where they will spend most of Tuesday. That night the couple flies to Winnipeg, where they will tour Wednesday before returning to England.
The Prince’s support for the military and veterans is on display throughout the trip. He visited the Halifax and Region Military Resource Centre where he met with participants of his Prince’s Charities Canada program, Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, which gives military personnel who want to leave the military help building their own businesses. It provides a low-interest loan, mentoring and has an educational component.
The Prince and Camilla have set a gruelling pace for their trip, which started Monday morning under grey skies and cold temperatures at Halifax’s Grand Parade with an official welcome that included a 21-gun Royal Salute and 100-person Guard of Honour.
Governor-General David Johnston welcomed the couple. The Prime Minister will meet them Wednesday, in Winnipeg, on the last day of their trip.
“This holiday is a reminder of the deep and enduring ties that exist between Canadians and the Royal Family,” Governor-General Johnston said, referring to Victoria Day. “It is a connection that Your Royal Highnesses are committed to strengthening.”
Prince Charles is sensitive to his Canadian constitutional duties: he wears a maple leaf lapel pin and in his speech Monday at Grand Parade, the first of four speeches planned for his visit, he mentioned he was a member of “your Canadian Royal Family.”
“We are always made to feel so much at home in Canada and are greatly touched by the warmth of your welcome.”
The Prince also invoked the memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who visited Canada with her husband, King George VI, in June, 1939. It was a highly successful visit for the royal family – just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
“As the King and Queen prepared to depart Canada, my grandmother reflected that: ‘Seeing this country, with all its varied beauty and interest, has been a real delight to me; but what has warmed my heart in a way I cannot express in words is the proof you have given us everywhere that you were glad to see us.’”
The Prince planted an English oak tree in Halifax Public Gardens not far from the tree his grandfather planted in 1939.
And Haligonians appeared glad to see them. Although the crowd was not huge at the opening ceremonies in the morning, with several hundred people attending, there were more than 500 at the Public Gardens.