HALIFAX – Prince Charles reflected on Canada’s contribution to the Second World War as he and his wife Camilla were greeted Monday by hundreds of people in Halifax on the first full day of a hectic four-day visit that will take them to three provincial capitals.
© Metro Halifax/Jeff Harper
Prince Charles and his wife Camilla leave Grand Parade after the official welcoming ceremony.
Canada’s military involvement was a central theme of the royal couple’s day-long tour of Halifax, a naval city where 500,000 military personnel embarked on a transatlantic journey to serve during the Second World War.
Charles commented on Canada’s contribution of so many soldiers, sailors and airmen to the liberation of Europe as the 75th anniversary of the start of the war approaches, calling it “an extraordinary contribution” from a country with a small population.
Later, Charles met with military families at a resource centre that helps them with a number of programs ranging from nutrition to mental health services while their loved ones are on deployment.
The Prince of Wales watched a ball hockey game in a parking lot outside the centre and inside he shook hands with a puppet who was entertaining a group of children.
Ordinary Seaman Matthew Hunt, 23, who volunteers at the centre, met the royal couple dressed in a yellow banana costume to promote healthy eating.
He said he didn’t hesitate to wear the brightly coloured costume when asked.
“I’m a little lost for words, it’s something I never thought I would do,” Hunt said after meeting the couple.
Puppeteer Melissa Connell, 35, also met the royals.
“They were very nice, they interacted with all the families, that was really exciting to see,” said Connell, who works at the centre. “It was great to see them shake hands and chat with the children.”
Charles commented on her puppets. “He actually said that they looked a little bit scary,” she said with a laugh.
The Duchess of Cornwall made a separate visit to the Northbrook Community Centre in suburban Dartmouth for a private meeting with representatives of Alice Housing, which provides shelter and counselling for women and children escaping domestic abuse.
The visit by the Prince of Wales and the duchess is meant to celebrate Canada’s past and future at a time when a number of significant anniversaries will be commemorated over the next few years, including the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
Another is the 150th anniversary this year of the Charlottetown Conference, which led to Confederation in 1867.
“Our visit will focus on Canadian achievements as part of a major celebration of the past and the future,” Charles said in the first of four speeches he will make during the royal tour.
“One hundred and fifty years ago, the foundations for a new country, which would be proud of its traditions and excited by its future, were first laid in Charlottetown and Quebec City. Based on the principle of freedom and justice inherited from two great European nations, the Dominion of Canada was to become a reality three years later.”
People were bundled up against chilly weather and a light mist hung over Grand Parade as Charles and Camilla were officially welcomed to Canada on Monday morning by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, politicians and an aboriginal elder. A booming 21-gun royal salute echoed through the city’s downtown as the prince inspected an honour guard.
Charles used the grey, overcast day to get a laugh from those who lined the square.
“It is, as always, a special joy to be back in Canada again, a place that is very dear to us both,” he said. “This time to be in Canada’s historic ocean gateway to the Atlantic at the official start of summer.”
The royal couple also laid a wreath at the city’s cenotaph and mingled with people during a walkabout around the square.
This is their second Canadian tour since 2012, but it’s the first time Camilla has visited the three provinces on the schedule: Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Manitoba.
Charles was last in Manitoba 18 years ago, and he visited the two Maritime provinces in 1983. They have a full day of events scheduled for Winnipeg on Wednesday after arriving the night before from Charlottetown.
The prince said he has fond memories of an unplanned visit to Halifax 42 years ago as a naval officer through “an act of God” when the propeller of the ship he was serving on became tangled in miles of fishing net and cable.
“An American net, of course,” he joked.
Ashley Mah, 20, missed a chance to see Prince William and his wife Kate in 2011.
“I was really upset when I missed out on seeing Will and Kate come a couple of years back, so I figured now that I have the opportunity to actually come out and take part in an event like this it would be kind of silly to pass up on it,” she said at Grand Parade.
Charles and Camilla were scheduled to end their visit to Halifax at Pier 21, the home of Canada’s National Museum of Immigration, where they meet war brides. The federal government estimates about 48,000 young women married Canadian servicemen during the Second World War, most of them from Britain.
The port was the entry point to Canada by ocean liner for thousands of immigrants, refugees, and children who were evacuated from Britain during the Second World War.