The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smile as they receive Team Canada hockey jerseys after they took part in ball hockey in Yellowknife on Tuesday, July 5, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
TORONTO - It had barely begun before royal observers were declaring Prince William and Kate's inaugural tour an unqualified success. Now that it's half over, they're calling it the spark that's rekindling Canada's love affair with the monarchy.
Nearly every aspect of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's travels through the country has been broadcast around the world, from their rapturous reception at public events to their more candid moments during unscripted walkabouts.
The tour has dominated newscasts across the United Kingdom, a marked departure from previous royal visits, which "are lucky to get 30 seconds on the evening news," said royal observer and historian Rafal Heydel-Mankoo.
Praise for the modern royal couple and the warm reception they've received from Canada has been universal, and the hands-on approach of the newlyweds has played a key role in the tour's success, Heydel-Mankoo said from London.
"It's an injection of youth and vitality, and in this royal tour particularly, you're seeing a very real face of monarchy," he said.
"You're seeing a couple who are down to earth, who can relate to the common people, and that's being reciprocated. The ability to forge that new connection is what's going to make the monarchy more relevant to 21st century Canadians."
That may even include those who have traditionally given the cold shoulder to the Royal Family.
Previous royal stops in Quebec have been greeted with everything from indifference to open hostility, but William and Kate's recent visits to Montreal and Quebec City suggest the tide is turning, Heydel-Mankoo said. Anti-monarchist protesters were significantly outnumbered by well-wishers offering flowers and friendly greetings.
"It was very brave, I think, to have the duke and duchess go to Montreal and Quebec on their first visit," he said.
"The fact that they had such a positive and warm reception really shows how the monarchy has managed to evolve and adapt itself into something which is acceptable, even to a large portion of the country, which before would have been completely ambivalent."
Younger Canadians, another demographic that has historically been slow to embrace royal visitors, also seem to have been won over by William and Kate, said Matthew Rowe of the Monarchist League of Canada.
At Tuesday's stop in Yellowknife, a 20-year-old man turned up at 4 a.m. to be the first to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. In the old days, polls suggested he and his contemporaries would have been decidedly less enthusiastic.
An unconventional itinerary that has included dragon boat races, beachside barbecues and even the spectacle of William flying a helicopter have helped to boost the royal couple's popularity among young people, said Rowe.
"This isn't your grandma's royal visit," he said. "It's not ship christenings and ribbon cuttings. They're doing really fun and interesting activities."
The success of the tour hinges on a handful of subtle but innovative changes that have helped make the prince and his wife more accessible to Canadians, said royal tour historian Garry Toffoli.
Walkabouts are a long-standing tradition dating back to William's great-grandmother, but the newlyweds have put their own spin on it by holding longer, more substantive conversations with the people they meet, he said.
The same holds true of their more scripted encounters, giving the impression that the royal couple sincerely wants to engage with Canadians.
The tour has also maintained a fine balance between time-honoured traditions and modern demands, he said, citing events like William getting behind the controls of a Sea King chopper and practising an emergency landing procedure.
"Doing military training isn't new; doing it publicly in a royal tour was," Rowe said. "That was, I think, the genius of this tour and the organizers."
Historians agree, however, that the scheduling innovations only enhance the natural star quality of the royal couple themselves, who are the main reasons the tour has been a success.
Heydel-Mankoo called William and Kate a "wonderful double act" who have eclipsed all expectations of how they would fare on the international stage.
Rowe said the couple's philanthropic efforts and commitment to being responsible public figures play as much a part in their popularity as their more obvious glamour and celebrity appeal.
"We love the razzle-dazzle, we love the fairy tale, that's part of monarchy. You can't get rid of that, that's part of its charm," he said.
"But I think it's the deeper message, the idea of service, that really appeals to this generation, who is much more interested in the difference they're making as opposed to just material rewards."