SAINT JOHN, N.B. – The royal couple kicked off their Canadian tour Monday in New Brunswick, where Prince Charles recalled his time training as a military pilot, extolled the virtues of service and in a scene reminiscent of his son’s visit last year, played a pickup game of street hockey.
But unlike Prince William, Charles scored.
It was an unconventional start for the couple’s whirlwind visit — Charles’s 16th to Canada — which began in earnest at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, where he flew as a naval helicopter pilot in the 1970s “at an exercise area in the middle of nowhere,” drawing a smattering of laughter from a crowd of about 800.
He also praised those who devote their time serving their communities — a prominent theme of the couple’s visit as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year.
“The roll call extends from remarkable schoolteachers who, against all the odds, are giving their students the best possible start in life, to senior businessmen and women who are working creatively to share their practical skills and experience with communities who need a bit of help,” Charles said.
“I can only hope their example will inspire others as it inspires me.”
Under sunny skies, Charles and Camilla were given a 21-gun salute and welcomed by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, federal Heritage Minister James Moore and Premier David Alward.
“The idea of service is important, one with which you are well familiar,” Johnston said.
“Like your mother, you have brought hope to people around the world. You have given service new meaning.
“We also know that Canada holds a special place in your heart, especially right here at CFB Gagetown … so this must seem somewhat of a homecoming for you.”
Charles wore a blue lounge suit adorned with seven medals on his left breast. Camilla was dressed in a blue and white-striped outfit and matching hat designed by Bruce Oldfield.
The Prince of Wales later presented a Diamond Jubilee Medal to 13-year-old Marshall Howard, who has been raising money for a scholarship in memory of Pte. David Greenslade, a soldier from Saint John who died April 8, 2007, while serving in Afghanistan.
“It was an honour because I didn’t know about it until an hour before I went on the stage,” Howard said after.
Charles also met with soldiers enrolled in the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, a program to help soldiers transition to civilian life by training them to start and run a business.
Among the people he spoke with was navy Lt. Scott Harrigan of Halifax. The 38-year-old gave Charles a handmade dog leash from his business called Mariner Dog Products.
“It’s exactly what I need right now,” Harrigan said of the program.
Charles then met with families of military personnel who have died.
Later in the day, Charles and Camilla travelled to Saint John, where they walked along Prince William Street shaking hands and speaking with hundreds of people along the way amid a constant flutter of camera shutters.
In 1981, Prince William Street, which features late 19th-century architecture, became the first streetscape in Canada to be designated as being of national historic and architectural significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Charles and Camilla also attended a citizenship ceremony for 13 new Canadians from eight countries at the Old Post Office, where federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney administered the oath.
They later went to Hazen White-St. Francis School, an elementary school with about 145 students who are predominantly from low-income families. There, Camilla kneeled on the floor to read to two young boys as Charles spoke with students about their choice of books.
Charles and Camilla also went inside the school lunch room, where they saw meals being made for children. The prince also sampled fiddleheads.
Outside, they watched as children and two members of the Saint John Police Force played street hockey on the playground.
Then, in a rare unscripted display, Charles picked up a stick just as his son did last summer in Yellowknife. But unlike Prince William, who was held scoreless in a friendly game of shinny, the 63-year-old was able to find the back of the net.
Moments later, Charles gave school principal Jennifer Carhart a Diamond Jubilee medal for her work with the students.
“I’m still in shock,” Carhart said.
“I do what I do because I love what I do … and this is the greatest honour you could get in return.”
Charles and Camilla later arrived in Toronto, where they were greeted on the tarmac by Premier Dalton McGuinty, Lt.-Gov. David C. Onley and other dignitaries.
The Duchess of Cornwall received flowers from a little girl, nine-year-old Morgan Marie Fremlin.
The royals took a brief break before heading to Ashbridges Bay to watch the Victoria Day fireworks.
People watching from a nearby dock cheered as the RCMP vessel carrying the royal couple approached. The prince and duchess were joined by McGuinty and his wife Terri, as well as Mayor Rob Ford.
The group walked through the park, stopping to chat with emergency services personnel and their families, then sat on folding chairs to watch the fireworks and clapped as the show closed with a rapid-fire burst of colour.
Fiona Madill’s Union Jack dress caught Camilla’s eye, the girl’s mother Fani Madill said. When asked where they had bought it, Fani Madill told the duchess it was a souvenir from a recent trip to England. Camilla asked about their trip and whether they had a good time.
“It was lovely,” said Madill, who then told the duchess to enjoy her stay in Canada.
“I’m sure we shall,” Camilla replied. “It’s a bit whistlestop … It would be nice to spend more time in all these places.”
“What a lovely lady,” Madill said moments later after the duchess had moved on. “And what a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
On Tuesday, the Ontario government will host a reception in the historic Distillery District for the royal couple before Charles visits the Yonge Street Mission.
They will leave Toronto on Tuesday evening for Regina. The next day, Charles will have a private audience with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and be treated to a concert by the Regina Symphony Orchestra before the tour concludes.