OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's capital gave a rock-star welcome Friday to Britain's newlywed royal couple, Prince William and Duchess Kate, with a giant street party.
An estimated 300,000 people, many of them bedecked in the red and white colors of the Canadian flag on the nation's 144th birthday, crammed onto Parliament Hill and chanted "Will and Kate" as the potential future king and queen arrived.
"It's created a new interest in the royalty, for sure," said Geordie Secord, who stood for hours in hot sun with his wife and two daughters in order to get a front row view.
Standing on a stage against the backdrop of the neo-gothic Parliament buildings, the Duke of Cambridge addressed the crowd in rudimentary French as well as in English. He was interrupted by whoops from the crowd each time he mentioned his wife, the former Kate Middleton
He also conveyed good wishes from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, who is head of state for Canada, and commended the Canadian military for its combat role in Afghanistan, which is now ending.
"The sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered and respected. We shall never forget," he said.
A much smaller crowd of about 100,000 turned out for Canada Day celebrations attended last year by Queen Elizabeth, whose visit was more protocol-heavy.
William and Kate are touring seven cities as part of their nine-day Canadian tour. They head to California on July 8.
Canadians planned relatively laid-back events for the couple married in April.
Their visit includes many outdoor activities to highlight youth in hopes of rekindling more monarchist sentiment in a country largely ambivalent to the royal family, polls show.
"They're doing young youthful things like dragon boat racing, holding barbecues, playing street hockey and youth are being reminded this isn't just people wearing fascinators. These are real people doing real things," said Tom Richards, chairman of the Monarchist Youth Network.
"People are starting to realize that these people aren't just celebrities, they personify the ultimate authority in Canadian governance, which carries a real weight beyond them just being a couple of pretty faces," Richards said.
One survey this week showed that two in three Canadians agreed William and Kate will help keep the monarchy relevant to Canadians. Still, almost half believe Canada should sever ties with the monarchy when Queen Elizabeth dies, although that view was down 10 points from a year ago.
Anti-monarchist sentiment is strongest in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, where the royal couple plan to go Saturday amid reports of possible protests.
Still, royal glamour is a big draw. For 10-year old Sarah MacGillivray it's all about Kate's fashion, which Friday featured a Reiss ivory gown with a ruffle across the front.
She also wore a red hat with maple leaf cutouts, red shoes and a clutch.
"I like the dress," MacGillivary said.
Reporting by Louise Egan