No city keys here: Will, Kate to join the ranks of Calgary's 'white hatters'

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CALGARY - Its honourees range from the Dalai Lama to Dr. Phil and now Prince William and Kate are about to join the ranks of Calgary's "white hatters."

Custom-made, white Smithbilt cowboy hats have come to symbolize the city and will be presented to the couple as part of the traditional welcome when they arrive Thursday afternoon at the international airport for the final leg of their royal tour.

Their arrival after a private break coincides with the kickoff to the world-famous Calgary Stampede, the 10-day exhibition and rodeo that celebrates the western way of life.

The hats have been given to members of the royal family, politicians and celebrities for more than 60 years.

"It's like the key to the city where you get the big symbolic key. To me, that's almost what the white hat of Calgary symbolizes," said Joshua Traptow, a third-generation Calgarian, who is also a member of the Monarchist League of Canada.

"It's a mark of respect, on behalf of Calgarians, from the mayor and city council. I think it's a pretty big deal to get a white hat. It can't get any more Calgarian than a Smithbilt hat."

Previous members of the royal family who have been white-hatted include Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Philip, who received his third cowboy cover in 1969, ruffled some feathers when he quipped about not knowing what to do with another hat other than to carry water or plant flowers in it. That prompted the city to give Prince Charles a black cowboy hat when he arrived eight years later.

"The mayor's office contacted us a number of weeks ago and ... they gave us a head size and everything else," said Bryce Nimmo, the president of Smithbilt Hats.

The pair made for William and Kate are top of the line, he said, and made of beaver fur felt with a silk lining.

"They're getting the best white hats we can make. There's not too many people that get the high-grade felt.

"The only problem with white is ... they get dirty a little bit more."

Other white hatters include Pope John Paul II, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, former U.S. president George W. Bush, former British prime minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the entertainment side, add Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Costner, Robert Duval, Luciano Pavarotti, Tommy Chong and even Ozzie Ozborne.

"I've got pictures all over my walls. We have a wall of all the celebrities and all the politicians," said Nimmo, who admits to being a royal watcher himself and hopes to add a few more snapshots to his collection.

"It is exciting. We're proud to be the maker. I only told a few select people, but I was one of those guys who got up and watched the wedding."

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will have a full plate as they wrap up their nine-day Canadian visit.

They are to tour a high-tech laboratory at the University of Calgary on Thursday before attending an evening reception with host Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The couple will be given a brief bull-riding demonstration and the prince is to have his picture taken as he throws a stove into the back of a chuckwagon.

On Friday, they are to open the Stampede parade, visit the zoo and meet homeless youth, attend an Alberta government reception and lay a wreath before leaving Canada and heading to Los Angeles.

Geographic location: Calgary

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