THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Cannon fire and the scream of Canadian fighter jets heralded the arrival Friday of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Parliament Hill as a sea of red and white well-wishers welcomed Prince William and Kate to Canada's birthday party.
More than 300,000 spectators, festooned in all manner of Canadian colours, jammed the streets of Ottawa and the fields beneath the peace tower to greet the royal couple on Day 2 of their first official overseas visit.
The crowds erupted into hysterical cheers when the landau bearing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge rolled into view, then clamoured for handshakes as the royal couple 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.
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"Kate, you're beautiful," one spectator bellowed. "Will and Kate," others chanted.
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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, 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.
Speaking in both French and English, William took to the podium at a massive Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill, thanking the crowd of more than 300,000 people for their warm welcome.
He also brought greetings from "the Queen of Canada," saying his grandmother has warm, abiding memories of her own visit last year.
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 chorus of frenzied cheering.
"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 Kandahar province, the sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered and respected."
He 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.
Earlier, William and his wife Kate gave written thanks to the Canadian troops for their contributions, a statement that was read aloud to a gathering of soldiers at Kandahar Airfield.
William also said Kate is excited about being in Canada, particularly given her grandfather's time spent training in Alberta as a young Second World War pilot.
"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.
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.