Prince Edward Island is famously known as the cradle of Canadian Confederation. Now, after William and Catherine’s action-packed 24 hours in the country’s smallest province, it can also lay claim to being the incubator of a new, far more informal royal protocol. In the space of a few hours, the world watched the newlyweds competing fervently against one another in a dragon boat race, hugging affectionately after, then even more shockingly for anyone schooled in monarchical mores, eating in public, heretofore a no-no.
The island’s laid-back mood was clearly contagious. Even under a light drizzle, the couple appeared relaxed at their first official duty at Province House, the provincial legislature and site of the 1864 Charlottetown conference. The duchess was less formally attired than previously during the tour, wearing a cream knit dress with a sailor’s bow and navy stripes, nautical details that paid homage to the Maritime setting.
After signing the Province House guest book, handshaking and posing for photos, the duke and duchess greeted an enthusiastic crowd filled with “I [heart] Will and Kate” signs and T-shirts. “What are you doing standing in the rain?” Kate asked one speechless teenage boy who looked as if he’d faint.
A horse-drawn landau with an RCMP escort ferried them to the waterfront, where they mingled a bit more before taking a helicopter to Dalvay by the Sea, a scenic resort on the north shore. There, more than 2,000 people gathered under grey skies and in blustery winds to watch the prince land a Sea King helicopter on water, a technique known as waterbirding. Executing the military emergency training exercise was a first for the RAF search-and-rescue pilot, and he clearly appeared to enjoy showing off his new skill, repeatedly landing and taking off as his wife took photographs from the shore.
Both then appeared in casual clothing to participate in a dragon boat race across the lake, which William’s team won. “They were definitely competitive,” said Annie Baert, a member of Canada’s national rowing team who was part of the 20-person crew with Kate. The duchess, an experienced paddler, wanted to steer at first, Baert says, then decided to paddle.
Champagne duly handed out to the winners, the couple then participated in a traditional Mi’kmaq smudging, or welcoming ceremony, before visiting tents and stages showcasing the Island’s cuisine and culture. After tasting lobster and clams baked in hot rocks on the sand, William asked the chef, Andrew Nicholson, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, what the detritus near the lobster shells on the table was. Nicholson laughed, thought about it, then said: “We call it s–t.” To that a royal aide quipped: “I’m sure they’ll ask about the meaning of the word later.”
The nonplussed couple soldiered on, helicoptering to Summerside Harbour for their last official scheduled event, which for William must have been like a day at the office: on-water search-and-rescue demonstrations. By then, of course, a far bigger rescue operation had been conducted, one intended to revive an archaic institution for the 21st century. If the look on people’s faces in P.E.I. was any indication, it succeeded.