Royal tour reveals William, Kate's love of sport, public life and each other
They walked side by side through crowds of admirers, grinning widely as they shook hands and collected gifts, best wishes and enough flowers to fill Buckingham Palace Garden.
They manned the paddles in a dramatic dragon-boat race, took shots in a shinny showdown in the Northwest Territories and mingled with everyone from dignitaries and political leaders to homeless youngsters and disaster victims.
But it was an honest, unguarded, up-close look at the fresh new faces of the Royal Family that observers say is likely to be Prince William and Kate's most enduring gift to Canadians.
Royal tours are choreographed to the last detail, but over the last nine days, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge still managed to send clear signals about their personal interests, their approach to public duties and even their relationship with each other.
Indeed, it was a royal visit unlike any other in the last 90 years, said Carolyn Harris, a Ph.D candidate at Queen's University who specializes in royal history.
"It was clear the two of them had a lot of influence over the tour," Harris said. "This wasn't just put together by advisers in Canada and Britain."
At times, their day in Prince Edward Island seemed more pleasure than business. William, a search-and-rescue pilot, practised emergency water landings at the controls of a Sea King helicopter. And it was Kate's love of the literary classic "Anne of Green Gables" that likely steered them there in the first place, Harris said.
"They seemed very down to earth, just like us Islanders," royal watcher Priscilla Morrison, who was on hand for William's piloting demonstration on the island's north shore, said at the time.
The playful exuberance of a young couple in love was on full display during the dragon-boat race, which William's team won — a fact that Kate playfully acknowledged when it was over by threatening to push him into the water.
Indeed, they never seemed afraid to get their hands dirty — or wet.
Few royals would have braved the faceful of paddle spray Kate endured by sitting in the back of her dragon boat. She laughed it off. William played foosball in Quebec and street hockey in Yellowknife, smiling all the while.
Every light-hearted moment, every time the royal facade slipped away, they fortified their connection with their Canadian fans, Harris said.
Everything from Kate's red-and-white Canada Day ensemble to William's willingness to speak French and Dene showed a willingness to embrace Canadian cultural traditions not commonly seen in other royal visits, she added.
On Thursday, their final night in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed the country's gratitude for the visit, predicting the start of a long and beautiful friendship not unlike the one kindled in 1951 when then-Princess Elizabeth first arrived on Canadian soil.
"Your first official tour of Canada marks the start of your own journey into the hearts of Canadians," Harper told the duke and duchess. "Your tour has been our opportunity to welcome you into our Canadian home and family. We sincerely hope you will return soon, and often."
William responded in kind.
"In 1939, my great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, said of her first tour of Canada with her husband, King George VI: 'Canada made us.' Catherine and I now know very well what she meant," he said.
"Canada has far surpassed all that we were promised. Our promise to Canada is that we shall return."
Not everyone is looking forward to that day, however.
Tom Freda, the national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, said William and Kate's visit — "the most newsworthy couple in the world," he noted wryly — has done little beyond demonstrate their media savvy as celebrities.
Their visit to California, which gets underway today, will be telling, he predicted.
"As far as celebrity goes, you won't see a better reception for the royals anywhere in the world than the United States, but they aren't in any way connected to them constitutionally," Freda said.
"If that's not proof that they'd get the same reception in Canada regardless of their constitutional connection, I don't know what is."
The royals were perhaps at their most endearing when they diverged from the public itinerary to pay a visit to Slave Lake, Alta., where they lifted the spirits of hundreds of people whose lives were torn apart by wildfires that devastated the city in May.
"(Kate) was interested ... in how people are going to start building their homes and where families are now, how many people have been displaced," said Slave Lake Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee.
"She was very concerned. She really focused on how are we going to get going on the reconstruction and rebuild. It was an amazing, amazing moment.''
Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said he was struck by the royal couple's obvious partnership, particularly when contrasted with other marriages in Prince William's family.
Images of the couple laughing together, exchanging mock shoves or boosting each other in their public interactions all told the same tale, he said.
"They're working so well as a team," Fitzwilliams said.
"As we all know, when Charles and Diana used to tour, people used to want to see her. They weren't so interested in seeing him and hearing his message. William and Catherine are working as a team. Her job, in reality, ultimately will be to support him, but they're mutually supportive."
Allowing Canadians a glimpse of their personal connection has helped to fuel the massive outpouring of enthusiasm, said Fitzwilliams — a fresh approach to the often staid, stale royal routine that can only strengthen Canada's ties to the monarchy.
Added Harris: "I think William and Kate making such a good impression . . . demonstrates the constitutional monarchy has a very clear and popular future within Canada."