CALGARY -- William and Kate romped across Canada for nine days like it was a summer playground, utterly charming a nation that appears to have renewed the centuries-old link with its monarchy after welcoming the world's most famous newlyweds to its backyard.
As their plane departed Calgary for Los Angeles, on Friday afternoon, left behind were indelible images from a royal tour more informal and playful than any in recent memory.
"This royal tour has been a tremendous success," says Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, with more than a small trace of glee.
"In less than two weeks, Prince William and the duchess were able to put a dagger in the heart of Canadian republicanism. The mood in Canada is now firmly pro-monarchy, and I suspect Canadians are more than satisfied with their future head of state."
For the duke and duchess's first tour abroad since their April 29 wedding transfixed the world, Canadian Heritage crafted a youth-focused itinerary packed with events that became more casual as the days went by.
Unlike Charles and Diana's first Canadian tour as newlyweds in 1983 -- that many thought skewed toward his interests, leaving her tired and bored at times -- Will and Kate's seemed tailor-made for both of them, full of athletic, outdoorsy activities and a trip to Prince Edward Island that was reportedly motivated by Kate's love of Anne of Green Gables.
"Catherine and I are so delighted to be here in Canada. Instilled in us by our parents and grandparents, who love this country, we have been looking forward to this moment for a very long time -- and before we were married, we both had a longing to come here together," William told Canadians in his first speech, just hours after arriving in Ottawa on June 30. "We are truly looking forward to this adventure."
Before the tour kicked off, the Queen's Canadian secretary, Kevin MacLeod, talked about planning with an eye to the enduring images of the couple's first tour abroad.
"We have to be conscious of the fact that through the lens of a camera, yes we'll have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the foreground, but what's in the background?" he said. "It's such a huge, unique opportunity for the world to look in, not only on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but to look in on them in a uniquely Canadian setting."
In the end, the tour conjured up images virtually dripping in maple syrup: a roaring, red-and-white sea of 300,000 people greeting the couple on Canada Day; Will and Kate standing on the shores of Frame Lake in Yellowknife, glittering water and Canadian Shield behind them, north-of-60 blue sky overhead.
Again in Yellowknife, the couple holding up Team Canada hockey jerseys with the surname Cambridge emblazoned across the shoulders -- No. 1 for her and No. 2 for him -- and Will deking, shooting and being shut out with a royal foray into road hockey.
But even with the world looking in over the shoulders of the 1,300 journalists accredited to cover the tour, many moments felt intimate thanks to prolonged walkabouts greeting crowds in nearly every city.
For Finch, one of the most memorable moments was the walkabout Will and Kate undertook in Quebec City, even with several hundred anti-monarchy protesters shouting, banging drums and hoisting signs a block away.
"They wandered into the crowd in an act that I believe helped solidify the monarchy's future in this country for years," he said. "For the first time in a long time, French Canadians were connected to the monarchy, helping the Crown fulfil its role as a symbol of national unity."
The couple's time in Montreal and Quebec City did provide a counterpoint to the adoring crowds they encountered elsewhere in the country. Will and Kate had to be hustled directly into a hospital they visited in Montreal when demonstrations took an edgy turn, disappointing fans waiting outside, but the protests were never violent.
But while polls consistently show antipathy toward the Crown in Quebec, even that province wasn't immune to the couple's star power, with crowds of cheering fans drowning out protesters.
"It's been decades since thousands of Quebecers lined the streets to welcome a member of the Royal Family," said Finch.
But one of the most heartwarming moments of the tour came in Calgary, where six-year-old Diamond Marshall was the bouquet-bearer.
Battling cancer and fulfilling her wish to meet a real princess thanks to the Children's Wish Foundation, the little girl tackled Kate's knees in a bear-hug. Kate instantly returned the embrace and then she and William spent several minutes crouched at Diamond's height out on the scorching tarmac, chatting with the little girl.
-- Postmedia News