TORONTO - The love and loyalty of military families - even as they experience "appalling emotional strain and anxiety" while their loved ones are fighting overseas - are "essential" for a successful mission, Prince Charles said Thursday.
He presented new colours to two regiments at a military ceremony in Toronto after touring sites in Hamilton and Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont., earlier in the day. The stop was part of the royal couple's 11-day Canadian tour, their first visit as a married couple.
The two regiments - the Toronto Scottish Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Canada - have seen 43 soldiers serve in Afghanistan.
As the father of two soldiers and colonel-in-chief of 22 regiments, including seven Canadian ones, Charles said he has some understanding of what Canadian military families go through.
"I can so well appreciate the appalling emotional strain and anxiety which permeate every waking minute while a loved one is placed in harm's way," Charles said.
The prince said he and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are deeply moved by the pride in the military shown by Canadians who may or may not have a personal link to the armed forces.
In particular, Charles mentioned those "who line what has so poignantly become known as the Highway of Heroes to honour the fallen."
It has become a custom for people to line up along overpasses on the section of Highway 401 that stretches from Trenton, Ont., to Toronto, after soldiers' remains are repatriated.
Earlier Thursday, Charles and Camilla visited a castle in Hamilton that was home to Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Canada's pre-Confederation prime minister from 1854 to 1856 and the duchess's great-great-great grandfather.
As the royals toured the opulent home in the southern Ontario city, they first stopped at a portrait of MacNab. Their gaze then turned to a painting of his daughter, Sophia, shown at a young age and wearing a coral necklace.
The necklace was said to ward off evil spirits, said the curator, who wondered aloud where the necklace might be today.
"Not with us," Camilla said with a smile at her comment, which also brought a grin to the lips of the prince.
Outside, an excited crowd numbering in the hundreds greeted the royals and Charles went out to meet the emotional onlookers, shaking hands with many of them.
"My mother would be here if she could. I'm here," said 81-year-old Helen Coverdale, tears filling her eyes.
Coverdale, whose mother is from Britain, said "It's heritage. It's what I'm proud of."
"I choose to be a royalist," she said, adding she got up early in the morning to watch both the Queen's wedding and Charles' first marriage, to Diana.
"We'll do the same for William when he gets around to it."
Trish Pond, with Ashley Laidlaw, 5, and Olivia Laidlaw, 3, said she "came out for the experience for the girls to get a glimpse of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall."
"They're excited. They're all into princesses and that sort of thing."
The royal couple also drew a large crowd when they visited HMCS Haida, a national historic site, and took turns firing four-inch guns on the top deck of the ship known as the "fightingest ship in the Royal Canadian Navy."
Camilla put her hands over her ears to brace for the sound, so Charles went first. He assured his wife that "it's only a small one."
While the prince's gun wasn't very loud, Camilla pulled the trigger on the second, which was quite a bit louder, and she laughed.
The prince then traded munitions for a wine glass as he toured the Niagara College Teaching Winery.
Charles walked in gingerly from the wet outdoors to the visitor and education centre and joked that he'd already been into the good stuff.
"We've been drinking wine already," he quipped before sampling three teaching winery wines: a chardonnay, a meritage and a cabernet franc icewine.
The process of making icewine, a speciality of the region, was explained, namely how the grapes are harvested when the temperature has been at -8 C for three consecutive nights. He seemed particularly interested in the icewine and called the process "fascinating."
Although Charles's belly was presumably full not only with wine but also with cheeses made by students from the college's Niagara Culinary Institute, he did not leave empty-handed.
At a reception where the prince unveiled a commemorative plaque for the centre, Ontario Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said Charles would receive a gift of the wine he sampled.
Charles and Camilla began their Canadian trip Wednesday in Newfoundland and will make several stops in Ontario, British Columbia and Montreal before ending their tour Nov. 12 in Ottawa.
Camilla's trip to Dundurn Castle allowed the duchess to reconnect with her Canadian roots, and she asked numerous questions about the house and its history.