William and Kate's royal visit kicks off today, putting Canada in spotlight
TORONTO - Get ready for your close-up, Canada.
Prince William and Kate arrive in Ottawa today for their nine-day Canadian tour, bringing with them the relentless attention of the international media.
More than 1,300 journalists have been accredited to cover the royal tour, including more than 200 from countries other than Canada — far more than the 20 foreign journalists who came along for the Queen's visit to Canada last summer.
This year's international contingent hails from 13 different countries, including Qatar, Japan, India and China.
At Rideau Hall, gardeners were beautifying the grounds, while chefs sliced and diced mountains of vegetables and prepared heaps of pastries for the reception. Security barricades were up around the National War Memorial, the venue for the first official event, scheduled for shortly after the royal couple's arrival at 2:30 p.m. ET.
William and Kate will travel to Quebec, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Alberta before leaving July 8 for California.
On Parliament Hill, the Canada Day stage was being readied for the big show, with TV hosts testing their perches and workers erecting fences around the perimeter.
The royal landau went for a test run Wednesday as dozens of police officers in motorcycles lined their bikes up to the west of the eternal flame on Parliament Hill. Bands performing at the Canada Day show performed sound checks as workers nailed up tourist signs.
Royal tours are seen not only as an opportunity to strengthen Canadian ties to the monarchy, but also to showcase Canada on a world stage.
In Yellowknife, events will highlight not only aboriginal traditions, but also northern sovereignty. The couple will meet with the First Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, which conducts surveillance patrols in the North.
The trip will also feature several military displays, including one in which Prince William will don a flight suit and get his hands dirty.
At Dalvay by-the-Sea, a waterfront resort in Prince Edward Island, the duke will climb aboard a CH124 Sea King helicopter for a demonstration of waterbirding, a manoeuvre over water that's designed to simulate an emergency landing.
The events and their locations are very carefully selected. There is at least one stop in each region of the country and most of the events tie into the theme of honouring the past, acknowledging the present and looking forward to the future.
Upon their arrival, William and Kate will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial before attending a reception at Government House — William and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are scheduled to speak — followed by a barbecue in the garden for young people.
The following day, homegrown musical talent will be on display at Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill. Performers include the Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, Quebec's Sam Roberts Band and Winnipeg's Maria Aragon.
The 10-year-old Aragon gained fans around the world after a video of her performing a Lady Gaga song was posted on YouTube. She's since played with Lady Gaga herself, as well as with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The royal couple's presence is expected to draw even larger-than-usual crowds to the annual celebration.
In a Harris-Decima poll conducted for The Canadian Press, 77 per cent of respondents said they were aware that William and Kate were visiting Canada. A similar survey the previous year found only 55 per cent of respondents aware of the Queen's impending visit.
Not everyone is excited at the prospect of the visit, however.
Protests are expected at some stops along the tour; a small group of people is planning to strum guitars and wave placards outside a citizenship ceremony Friday to protest the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Queen.
After Ottawa, the duke and duchess head to Quebec, where the little-known Quebec Resistance Network is planning a protest against the monarchy.
Animal-rights activists opposed to the Calgary Stampede are also liable to make an appearance when William and Kate kick off the Stampede parade festivities.