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Clem Gerwing of Alberta Boot Co. is hoping to present a pair to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they're in town in July. (Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail/Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail)
Clem Gerwing of Alberta Boot Co. is hoping to present a pair to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they're in town in July. (Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail/Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail)

Calgarian is betting his boots on Will and Kate Add to ...

In his 91 years, Clem Gerwing has made cowboy boots, riding boots and Mounties' ceremonial boots, but now he finds himself stumped - how wide are the Duchess of Cambridge's feet?

Mr. Gerwing and his family-run Calgary store, Alberta Boot, are among those laying out a welcome mat for the royal tour's final stop in the city next month. They're custom-making boots for Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton, the Duchess.

With kangaroo on top, ostrich on the bottom and special stitching named for the cities of Edmonton and Calgary, the boots are meant to be authentically Albertan. But only if they fit.

"They gave us the British sizes and wouldn't do anything more than that. We don't know whether they have wide feet or narrow feet," shrugs Mr. Gerwing. "It's a shot in the dark."

History suggests the Royal Family trusts his judgment, as Mr. Gerwing's boot-giving dates back more than three decades.

While serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War, Mr. Gerwing met Lord Louis Mountbatten, a British statesman and naval officer and a cousin of the Queen. During a visit to Canada in the 1970s, Lord Mountbatten remembered Mr. Gerwing.

"I said: 'I find that awful hard to believe,'" the Saskatchewan-born Mr. Gerwing recalls. Nevertheless, they met for tea; Mr. Gerwing, by then a farmer-turned-cowboy-boot-maker, gave the British visitor the best gift he could think of.

"We gave him a pair of boots and he sent me a nice letter from his estate in England," he recalls. "And when Prince Charles and [Prince]Andrew came over to Canada, we gave them a pair."

So began the tradition that Mr. Gerwing hopes to continue next month. Protocol officials in Alberta are aware of Mr. Gerwing and have passed along the royal shoe sizes, but refuse to confirm whether his boots will be among the gifts presented to the couple.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, known colloquially as Will and Kate, are set to rake in a wide array of gifts during their nine-day visit, including official state gifts and private ones, such as, perhaps, the boots.

Traditionally, visiting royals have received gifts that are as Canadian as a maple leaf. Prince Andrew and his then-wife, Sarah Ferguson, received parkas. King George V requested a sleigh.

"There have been other types of gifts in the past that are almost stereotypically Canadian," said Carolyn Harris, a royal historian and doctoral candidate at Queen's University. "I wouldn't be surprised if either this time at the Stampede, or the next time, the boots come out."

The detailed itinerary of the couple's visit to Calgary, from July 6 to 8, is set to be released this week. The Calgary Stampede looms large over the visit, kicking off with a parade on the visit's final day.

If the Duke and Duchess attend it, they'll face an outcry at home, where animal-rights groups have already called for a boycott. ("If they went to the Philippines, we imagine they'd avoid a cockfight," said Douglas Batchelor, head of Britain's League Against Cruel Sports, in a statement this month.) If they skip the cherished Calgary tradition, however, it could be viewed as a slap in the face to the city.

Regardless, the couple will be in the city at a time when almost everyone - cowboy or otherwise - dons boots and a hat in the spirit of Stampede. Mayor Naheed Nenshi is among those who own a pair from Alberta Boot. If the guesses of Mr. Gerwing and his family are correct, the Duke and Duchess will have a thoroughly appropriate wardrobe choice available, like other members of the Royal Family before them.

It's a point of pride for Mr. Gerwing, according to his grandson and co-worker Ben, 25.

"He wanted to keep the tradition going. He's been talking about it for a while, as soon as he found out there's a tour," the younger Mr. Gerwing said. "We're just hoping that our guess comes out to be true."


Royal Tour Dates

Prince William and Catherine will be coming to Canada at the end of the month, and starting their tour in Ottawa.

June 30-July 2: Ottawa region (including Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill)

July 2: Montreal

July 3: Quebec City

July 3-4: Charlottetown

July 4: Summerside

July 4-6: Yellowknife

July 6-8: Calgary

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