William and Kate tip their hats to Canada

CALGARY - There were a few grumbles among Calgarians on Thursday when Prince William and Kate initially appeared to pass on a decades-old tradition, but for others it was hats off to the royals for fulfilling the wish of a sick little girl.

CALGARY - There were a few grumbles among Calgarians on Thursday when Prince William and Kate initially appeared to pass on a decades-old tradition, but for others it was hats off to the royals for fulfilling the wish of a sick little girl.

In the midst of strong winds, the couple did not immediately don the cowboy hats presented to them by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi upon their arrival in the city — a 60-year-old ceremony called "white hatting."

Instead, the Duchess of Cambridge quickly turned her attention to Diamond Marshall, a six-year-old girl decked out in a pretty pink dress with a matching band encircling her bald head.

Diagnosed with from Stage 4 undifferentiated sarcoma last December, Diamond had two life-saving surgeries in recent months and had spent nearly a month in intensive care.

The youngster's biggest wish was to one day meet a "real princess." She had written Kate a note from the hospital bed where she watched the royal wedding earlier this year, and the Children's Wish Foundation went to work.

As the royal couple emerged from their helicopter, strong winds forced Kate to pull her long hair out of her face and she struggled to keep her primrose dress from flying up.

Diamond ran up to her, thrust a handmade gift and flowers toward the smiling Duchess and then bolted back to the safety of her parents. Kate entreated the shy little girl to come back and after they exchanged a few words they gave each other a hug.

"She was beautiful," an enthralled Diamond later told reporters, her words muffled as she tried to hide her face in her dad Lyall's chest.

"This is a big boost for her and we're very proud of her," her visibly moved father said. "It's a big win for all our family and friends, it's great."

The couple's arrival in Cowtown after a private break at a remote Rocky Mountain lodge near Lake Louise, Alta., coincided with the kickoff to the world-famous Calgary Stampede, the 10-day exhibition and rodeo that celebrates the western way of life.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a full plate as they wrap up their nine-day Canadian visit.On Friday, they are to open the Stampede parade, visit the zoo, meet homeless youth, attend an Alberta government reception and lay a wreath before leaving Canada and heading to Los Angeles.

The couple's choice not to don the hats on the windy tarmac raised a few eyebrows.

"Ohhhh!" gasped Candice Chow, who had camped overnight with her son Kristian to get one of the coveted wristbands allowing them into a rodeo demonstration that William and Kate later attended.

"They're welcomed anyhow," she added with a laugh. "Maybe she'll put it on later."

Indeed, they did. In just a couple of hours, while attending the outdoor event, William and Kate emerged before the crowd wearing their custom-made, white Smithbilt hats, which are considered Calgary's version of the key to the city.

The white-hatting ceremony representing the city's cowboy culture and pioneering past has been celebrated by dignitaries ranging from the Dalai Lama to Dr. Phil.

Previous members of the Royal Family to be white-hatted include Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Philip, who received his third cowboy cover in 1969, ruffled some feathers when he quipped about not knowing what to do with another hat other than to carry water or plant flowers in it.

That prompted the city to give Prince Charles a black cowboy hat when he arrived eight years later.

With his white hat on, and sporting a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt, William got up close and personal with one of the mammoth beasts that will be used in the bull riding event, standing high on a gate and bending over to inspect the animal's restraints.

He and his new bride were shown how to load a chuckwagon and William even took his turn holding the reins — though he didn't actually drive the wagon.

Then it was on to a dinner with dignitaries.

"We haven't seen a love-in like that since the first visit of the Beatles," Prime Minister Stephen Harper joked of the couple's Canada Day appearance on Parliament Hill.

Harper praised them for reinvigorating Canadians' feelings for the monarchy, then announced a Parks Canada youth ambassador program in their names that will allow two young people to tour the parks and share their experiences through social media.

Still wearing his western garb, William began his speech with a good-natured poke at the headgear beef that had marked his arrival in the city.

"How about those white hats?" he said with a grin.

Turning serious, he said he and Kate had looked forward a week ago to getting to know Canada and its citizens.

"I can only say that the experience of this past seven days has exceeded all our expectations."

The prince, who himself has a military background, said they had learned much about Canada's history from its veterans, from those who had fought in earlier wars to those who served in Afghanistan.

"We are intensely proud of their sacrifices and immensely grateful," he said. "Catherine and I are also full of admiration for the tremendous courage and resilience of the people we met yesterday at Slave Lake, as they rebuild their lives after the devastating fire."

One-third of the northern Alberta town was destroyed by a May wildfire.

"Canada has far surpassed all that we were promised," he concluded. "Our promise to Canada is that we shall return."

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