Several hundred eager well-wishers waited patiently behind a barricade in unseasonably blazing sunshine on Saturday as Prince Harry toured one of Canada’s leading mental-health facilities across the road.
The prince did not disappoint, crossing the road after his tour to talk to children, meet a pup and shake hands with members of a crowd that whooped when they glimpsed him and called his name repeatedly.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so happy, he shook my hand,” said a dazzled Robinowe Bukirwa, who wondered if she was dreaming even as the prince faded into the distance. “I don’t think I’m going to wash my hand today. I’m so very excited.”
The prince, who is in town for the Invictus Games for wounded veterans, began his day with a tour and meetings at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where he participated in two roundtables – one with nine senior staff members focused on research, the other on dealing with youth coping with mental illness.
Describing the complex issue as one requiring a “massive team effort,” Harry listened attentively to staff discuss their work, and anecdotes from patients who sought treatment for mental health and addiction struggles at the facility in downtown Toronto.
At times gesticulating as he made a point or stroking his chin as he listened intently, the prince stressed the importance of mental health research and treatment – a topic he has championed. There is no “silver bullet” when it comes to dealing with the problem, he said.
“You need options,” he said.
One person in attendance told Harry she still cherished a visit decades before from his mother, the late Princess Diana. The prince also met privately with teenaged inpatients of the mental health facility.
Outside the centre, Prince Harry stopped briefly to chit-chat as people thrust out hands across the barrier, thanking them repeatedly for coming out.
Sara Gashi said meeting the royal family member was much better than she had anticipated.
“I honestly can’t remember,” Gashi said when asked what Harry told her. “He was very nice. He was very pleasant and smiling.”
Dressed in a blue blazer and grey slacks, the royal set off for a series of further events, including meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston before attending the Games opening ceremonies.
The Invictus Games, with 550 competitors from 17 countries participating in 12 sports, was scheduled to kick off formally Saturday evening at a downtown Toronto arena with a star-studded show featuring performances by Sarah McLachlan, Alessia Cara and the Tenors along with a “parade of nations.”
Saturday’s events followed a similar day Friday in which the prince attended a symposium on veterans’ issues and met and chatted with Games participants.
“We’re using the Games to get out of dark holes and back into life – and without Harry, we wouldn’t be here having fun and enjoying the camaraderie, which is what you miss from the army days,” Charlie Walker, a coach of the United Kingdom’s sitting volleyball team, said Friday.
The first Invictus Games, aimed at helping the war wounded with their recovery, were held in London in 2014. The Toronto Games run until Sept. 30.<