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Royal newlyweds William and Kate were officially welcomed to Canada Thursday afternoon by Governor-General David Johnston, who called Canada the "honeymoon capital of the Commonwealth."

The line provoked smiles from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who arrived in Ottawa under sunny skies and high expectations for their first official trip abroad as a married couple.

The beginning of their nine-day visit to Canada began on a relaxed note, as they delayed their tightly-choreographed schedule to wade into crowds of well-wishers.

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Prince William addressed the crowd and joked about his French.

"It will improve as we go on," he said with a laugh during short remarks in both official languages.

Prince William said he and his bride had been "longing to come here together" since before they got married.

"The geography of Canada is unsurpassed and it's famous for being matched only by the hospitality of its peoples. We're so very excited for having this opportunity to experience both and learn much more about this amazing country," he said.

About 6,000 people, according to Rideau Hall officials, lined both sides of the driveway leading up to the grand mansion – the Governor-General's residence – where the couple will stay during the Ottawa portion of their visit.

William and Kate were welcomed by the Governor-General and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a ceremony featuring full military honours and a 21-gun salute.

Mr. Harper apologized for missing their wedding due to the federal election campaign, saying he and his wife, Laureen, were with them in spirit from a Montreal hotel room.

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Catherine stood with Mr. Harper and his wife, Laureen, and the Governor-General and his wife, Sharon, as Prince William addressed the crowd.

The Duchess, tall and very slim, wore a navy, form-fitting lace dress with a white underlay by British-based label Erdem – whose designer, Erdem Moralioglu, was born in Montreal. The Duke was dressed in a dark suit with a blue shirt and burgundy tie, complete with a Maple Leaf pin in his lapel. The Duchess changed outfits during the flight from London. As she boarded a Canadian Forces Airbus earlier in the day, she wore a navy blazer by Canadian label Smythe over a knee-length dress.

Later Thursday, William and Kate are to attend a barbecue to celebrate Canadian youth in the garden of Rideau Hall.

After their plane touched down at 2 p.m. ET, the royals were greeted by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and a throng of other officials.

Liberal MP David McGuinty later said he had thanked the Duchess for choosing Canada first, adding that she replied she was "honoured and spoiled." Marc Bureau, the Mayor of Gatineau, Que., said he greeted the couple in French and that the Duchess had replied in French that it was a pleasure.

Then the couple headed directly to the National War Memorial to lay a wreath and floral spray to pay tribute to Canada's war sacrifice. They were greeted by Mr. Harper, who wore a red and white tie, and Mrs. Harper, who was dressed in a white dress and red jacket.

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After signing a visitors' book, the royals chatted with grey-haired veterans in uniform, one of whom proudly described his medals to the Duke.

William and Kate then parted, each taking a side of the crowd and shaking hands as well-wishers extended their necks – and their cameras – for a better view. At one point, people chanted, "Kate, Kate, Kate."

Crowds hopeful for a glimpse of the royals began lining up hours beforehand.

Ann Baker put together her fascinator last night and then came out to Rideau Hall at 7 30 a.m. for a prime position.

She got one – right at the front of the barricade. She was hoping that Prince William and Catherine would stop.

Peggy McCann was at the Rideau Hall grounds at 9 a.m., wearing a red-and-white velour top hat with a picture of William and Kate pasted on the front.

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She and Ms. Baker had become fast friends.

At the airport this morning, about 30 royal enthusiasts pressed up against a fence waving Canadian flags and lounged in the sun on picnic blankets. When the royals arrived, their plane was at least two football fields away.

But no matter for local resident Irene Nagle, who figured this was her best shot of a view.

"This is more intimate, rather than being with a million people. And this is their actual arrival. It was important to me because when Di was here I was too young, so this is a special moment for me," she said, referring to Prince William's late mother, Diana.

The royal couple's highly anticipated tour of Canada will also take them to Quebec, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Alberta. During their travels, they will sample classically Canadian experiences – from street hockey to the Calgary Stampede.

William and Kate, who were married two months ago, will be closely watched during their first official international tour. Nearly 1,400 journalists have been accredited to cover the visit, including nearly 100 from Britain.

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On Friday, they will be on stage for the noon Canada Day show on Parliament Hill – a mix of pomp and pop that features an address to the nation from Prince William. Officials are preparing for crowds that could exceed half a million people.

Heritage Canada is spending $1.5-million on the tour, not including security costs.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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