Canadians mass for William and Catherine debut

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Prince William and new bride Princess Catherine make their international debut Thursday as Britain's royal golden couple, hoping star power will win skeptical Canadians over to the monarchy.

Thousands desperate to glimpse the pair on their first official overseas trip lined the streets of Ottawa ahead of a wreath-laying ceremony at a World War I memorial scheduled for 1835 GMT, shortly after their expected arrival.

While Prince William has plenty of experience of royal duties, his wife, whom he met while studying at Scotland's Saint Andrews University, is still a rookie in the public eye.

At the start of the nine-day tour of the key British Commonwealth nation, Princess Catherine will have an immediate chance to show she has learnt the ropes when she meets and greets the gathering throng after the ceremony.

Prince William's great-grandparents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth unveiled the memorial in 1939 and established a new tradition with the first royal walkabout, stopping to chat with some in the 100,000-strong crowd.

Full of pomp and ceremony, the trip comes just two months after a radiant Kate Middleton walked down the aisle in the wedding-of-the-year, watched by an estimated two billion people worldwide.

The 29-year-old newlyweds flew earlier out of London's Heathrow airport in the morning on a Royal Canadian Air Force jet.

Princess Catherine's outfit featured Canadian and French labels in a move to please her hosts, including those in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, where part of the visit will take place.

She wore a navy blue knee-length Manon dress by French designer Roland Mouret with a navy blazer by Toronto-based Smythe les Vestes, as well as navy Manolo Blahnik Calogera court shoes.

Prince William, second in line to the British throne after his father Prince Charles, was wearing a navy suit and red tie.

Meanwhile, their Canadian fans packed every hotel in sight of the capital. Some even camped overnight on the steps of the war memorial, awakened by Canada's national anthem blared from nearby Parliament Hill where technicians readied sound and stage equipment for Friday's Canada Day celebrations.

"It's symbolic that Canada is the first place they have chosen to visit," said Dave Sencial, who had come all the way from Canada's easternmost Newfoundland province to see the royal couple.

Support for the monarchy hovers above 50 percent in Canada and has risen from last year since the royal nuptials, although there is still a vocal anti-monarchist minority.

In addition to official and military ceremonies, the lengthy royal visit will have its more casual moments, such as a cooking class, an aboriginal sports event and a rodeo.

The initiation of sorts for the British royal family's newest member, also known as the Duchess of Cambridge, will provide vital training for the future queen in the cauldron-like atmosphere of royal walkabouts.

Their first day will kick off with military honors as well as speeches by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston and Prince William himself.

Later, the royals are to attend a barbecue with 120 young Canadians at the official residence of the British governor general, Rideau Hall, originally the home of a Scottish stonemason.

On July 1, they cap off their visit to Ottawa celebrating Canada's national holiday, joining tens of thousands outside parliament for musical performances and fireworks.

After taking a cooking class in Montreal on July 2, William and Catherine will travel to Quebec City, Charlottetown, Yellowknife and Calgary.

Prior to their final stop in Canada, the newlyweds, who honeymooned in May in the Seychelles, were expected to sneak away on a romantic getaway to a secluded and undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains for a day and night.

Their tour of Canada coincides with a grim milestone -- Friday would have been the 50th birthday of Princess Diana, Prince William's mother, who was thronged by fans when she made her own visit to Canada in 1983.

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William's grandmother, is Canada's official head of state but has next-to-no role in the country's governance.

A poll released on the eve of their visit showed one-third of Canadians wish to cut ties with the British monarchy.

Anti-monarchists in the French-speaking independence-leaning province of Quebec added their own event to the royal itinerary, calling for protests when the couple stops in Quebec City on Sunday.

After wrapping up their tour of Canada, the couple will travel to California for three days, July 8-10, for a visit whose highlight will be a black-tie celebrity reception for British filmmakers in Los Angeles.

© 2011 AFP

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