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William wishes Canada happy birthday, gives thanks for efforts in Afghanistan

Canada should be “immensely proud” of its successes and sacrifices on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Prince William said Friday as he delivered hearty Canada Day wishes to hundreds of thousands of admirers partying on Parliament Hill.

Speaking both rudimentary French and the Queen’s English, William took the the microphone to a raucous, frenzied welcome from a roiling sea of more than 300,000 well-wishers, the vast majority of them festooned in all manner of red and white.

The Canadian royal tour in pictures: Day 2

He brought greetings from his grandmother, “the Queen of Canada,” who he said has warm, abiding memories of her own visit last year, and described his wife Kate’s own interest in the country, her pilot grandfather having trained in Alberta.

But he saved his warmest remarks for the men and women of the Canadian Forces, who are in the midst of winding down their combat mission in Afghanistan, where they have fought alongside British troops for nearly a decade.

“This draws to a close an episode of which all Canadians can be immensely proud,” William said to a rising chorus of cheers.

“Our armed forces have always led the world in rallying to the defence of freedom, from Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach through Korea and the Falklands to the Balkans to Kandahar province, the sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered and respected.”

Speaking in French, William also saluted the courage, strength and determination of those Canadians in Manitoba, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta who are working to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of devastating floods in those provinces.

“Catherine and I are also thrilled and excited at the prospect of the next eight days, especially being part of the Canadian family,” he said.

“It will be an adventure that we’ll never forget.”

Earlier in the day, cannon fire and the scream of Canadian fighter jets heralded the royal couple’s arrival on Parliament Hill as a massive crowd of celebrants welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Canada’s birthday party.

The crowds erupted into hysterical cheers when the landau bearing the royal couple rolled into view, then clamoured for handshakes as William and Kate strolled along the red carpet.

The din and smoke from a 21-gun salute filled the streets outside Parliament as Governor General David Johnston inspected the honour guard, the skirl of bagpipes in the background. The prince and his wife stood alongside the Centennial Flame as the band played the national anthem and “God Save the Queen.”

Kate was resplendent in Canadian colours — a cream dress by Reiss, complete with the Queen’s Maple Leaf brooch, and a brilliant red fascinator by Sylvia Fletcher at Lock and Co. — while William wore an understated blue suit with red tie.

“Kate, you’re beautiful,” one spectator bellowed. “Will and Kate,” others chanted.

The brooch, on loan from the Queen, is a diamond brooch in the form of a maple leaf that was first worn by Princess Elizabeth on her first visit to Canada in 1951, and again last year on Canada Day.

Two Canadian CF-18 fighters screamed overhead, followed by the familiar sight of the Snowbirds air demonstration team as their CT-114 Tudor jets left a sprawling blossom of contrails in the sky over Parliament Hill.

Once the guests of honour were on the dais, Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed them warmly as he urged the sprawling crowd to celebrate Canada’s 144th birthday with pride in its accomplishments and aspirations for its future.

“I thought we had a big crowd last year, but I think this is the biggest one ever,” Harper grinned.

“I see a country that is brimming with confidence, peaceful, prosperous, strong and united, a Canada that’s proud of its long history and secure in its present, a Canada that will accept no limits, no bounds, and no ceiling to its great future — the best country in the world.”

Earlier in the day, the royal couple kicked off the day’s events by presiding over a Canada Day citizenship ceremony, with hundreds of spectators gathered outside the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., just across the Ottawa River.

Before some 25 new Canadians took the oath of citizenship, which requires swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney noted the historic nature of the occasion.

“You will (take the oath) for the first time in the history of Canadian citizenship in the presence of one of her heirs, who we hope will — in the fullness of time — become one of her successors, as the King of Canada.”

After they swore the oath, the new citizens took the stage one at a time to receive a folded Canadian flag from William, a handheld flag from Kate and warm wishes from them both.

As he accepted the flags, Siddhartha Kumar, 33, said Kate asked where he was from. When he replied India, he said, she replied she was going there too.

“It is probably one of the most special days of my life so far,” said Kumar, who was wearing the same tunic he wore the day of his wedding.

He described his emotions as “mixed feelings and nervousness — which is exactly the same I probably felt when I got married.”

Later on Parliament Hill, the grounds became a checkerboard of red T-shirts, big hats and signs proclaiming love for the royal couple, who will see performances by Newfoundland band Great Big Sea and Quebec’s Sam Roberts Band.

Ten-year-old YouTube sensation Maria Aragon, who has performed alongside Lady Gaga and Harper himself, added the royal couple to her resume of spectators when she serenaded William and Kate with a version of “O Canada.”

Souvenir stands downtown were doing brisk business, one selling a replica of Kate’s engagement ring, which once belonged to William’s mother Diana, the late Princess of Wales. Today would have been Diana’s 50th birthday.

The duke and duchess will remain in Ottawa until Saturday, before travelling to Montreal, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Yellowknife and Calgary. They will leave for California on July 8.

The British media has nearly 100 journalists in Canada covering the royal tour and their stories have gushed about Canada’s obvious love of Kate. On Friday, they were enraptured with her choice of outfit.

“Happy Canada Day! Duchess of Cambridge makes a real effort with maple leaf hat and brooch borrowed from the Queen on day two of Royal tour,” the Daily Mail’s website proclaimed.

Here is a detailed itinerary of William and Kate’s Canadian tour:

Friday, July 1

10:30 a.m. ET — Arrive at Canadian Museum of Civilization for citizenship ceremony, group photograph and book-signing.

12:05 p.m. — Arrive on Parliament Hill by landau for Canada Day show.

8:50p.m. — Arrive on Parliament Hill for Canada Day evening show.

Saturday, July 2

12:40 p.m. ET — Tree planting at Government House.

1:10p.m. — Arrive at Canadian War Museum for reception with veterans, war brides and families; galleries walkthrough; painting-plaque unveiling.

2:45p.m. — Arrive at Ottawa Airport for departure.

3:45 p.m. — Arrive at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Montreal.

4:15p.m. — Arrive at Sainte-Justine University (Children’s) Hospital Centre; view displays; meet children and parents.

5:45p.m. — Arrive at Institut de Tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec; cooking workshop and reception.

9:55p.m. — Arrive at HMCS Montreal and depart for Quebec City.

Sunday, July 3

9 a.m. ET — Arrive Quebec City.

10:00a.m. — Prayer service aboard HMCS Montreal.

11:10 a.m. — Youth event (location not disclosed).

12:15 p.m. — Military ceremony (location not disclosed).

1:00p.m. — Arrive at Citadelle.

­3:30p.m. — Arrive at community event (location not disclosed).

­4:15p.m. — Arrive at Jean Lesage International Airport, Quebec City, for departure.

6:30 p.m. AT — Arrive at Charlottetown Airport.

6:40p.m. — Depart for informal media reception.

Monday, July 4

10:10 a.m. AT — Arrive at Province House, Charlottetown; tour; welcoming ceremony; remarks; walkabout.

11:00a.m. — Procession down Great George Street by open-top vehicle.

12:35 p.m. — Waterbirding demonstration at Dalvay-by-the-Sea.

2:00p.m. — Dragon Boat race across Dalvay Lake.

2:15p.m. — Arrive at Dalvay-by-the-Sea Resort; presentation to winning team; smudging ceremony; cultural performances and culinary stations; beach activities.

3:45 p.m. — Arrive at Summerside; search-and-rescue demonstration; meet families on dock.

5:00p.m. — Arrive at Summerside Airport for departure.

8 p.m. MT — Arrive at Yellowknife Airport.

Tuesday, July 5

11:40 a.m. MT — Arrive at Somba K’e Civic Plaza; prayer drum song; dance; remarks; demonstration of Dene games and Arctic sports; shrub-planting and plaque unveiling; street hockey hockey.

1:05 p.m. — Arrive at legislative assembly; session of Youth Parliament and reception.

3:00p.m. — Depart by float plane for Blachford Lake.

3:30p.m. — Arrive at Blachford Lake; event with Canadian Rangers; meets Dechinta students and elders; tours organic garden/greenhouses; medicine walk; roundfire discussion with students and elders; canoe.

Wednesday, July 6

10:05 a.m. MT — Arrive at Yellowknife Airport for departure.

Thursday, July 7

4:30 p.m. MT — Arrive at Calgary International Airport; white-hatting ceremony.

5:00p.m. — Arrive at 21st Century Research and Innovation Centre; tour.

7:25p.m. — Arrive at BMO Centre for a reception hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Calgary Stampede activities.

8:15 p.m. — Speech.

Friday, July 8

8:50 a.m. MT — Arrive at Bow Valley College to officially launch Calgary Stampede Parade; watch parade.

11:30a.m. — Arrive at the ENMAX Conservatory/Calgary Zoo; tour environmental preservation displays; meet homeless youth privately; attend Alberta government reception.

12:45 p.m. — Arrive at Challenger Rotary Park; wreath-laying.

1:30p.m. — Arrive at Calgary International Airport for departure to Los Angeles.