July 8:  Calgary, AB - A Royal Tribute to our Troops

As the Portraits of Honour display was packed up in Peterborough last Saturday, our driver Paul was given a special mission.  He had 4 days to drive across the country to arrive in Calgary no later than Thursday.  This was not an event that we could be even a minute late to.

This past April, tour organizers opened a dialogue with the planners of the the 2011 Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  It started with a coded message from one of our key contacts within Veterans Affairs Canada and with the help of a retired Chief Warrant Officer, a plan to have the Royal couple view the mural soon took shape.

Over the next several months organizers had several meetings with representatives of Her Majesty the Queen, Heritage Canada, the Governor General, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and eventually a scenario took form in which the Royals would lay a wreath at the foot of the mural.

For the past week, the Portraits of Honour National Tour trailer rolled down the TransCanada Highway from Peterborough to Calgary, proudly displaying the large graphics that adorn each side which state: “Bringing Canadians together to remember, honour and celebrate our Canadian Forces”.

Yesterday started out early with an excited Tour Team gathering to carpool together to the highly secured site of the Royal’s departure ceremony.  This ceremony would be the last official duty that Prince William and his new wife Catherine Middleton would perform before leaving Canada.

Arriving onsite, the crew quickly set up the trailer. Today, for the first time, we would also add a bright red carpet.

Excitement grew as thousands of fortunate guests began to arrive, shuttled in on city buses.  The presence of plain clothed RCMP was obvious but not overwhelming.  Even the bomb sniffing dog who toured throughout our trailer came and went with little notice.

The official greeting party soon arrived preparing for the arrival of the Royals.  Chief of Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk took a moment to stop to say hi to the Tour Team.  He’s become a good friend of the project and we’re always grateful to see him.  The General made a special point to acknoweldge the hard work of Bruce Lloyd.

The sounds of police sirens could be heard in the distance and soon over a dozen police motorcycles came into view followed by the Royal motorcade.  Soon the Royal Couple emerged amidst the loud cheers of thousands.

They were greeted by the Governor General, Prime Minister, Lietenant Governor of Alberta, Premier of Alberta and the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Governor General Johnston was gracious in introducing the Royals to Artist, Dave Sopha and his wife Penny and granddaughter Jazzi.  Prince William was interested in learning more about the mural and spent considerable time speaking with Dave before having brief conversations with other members of the team.

Prince William and Catherine were genuinely moved by the work of Dave and the work of Kin Canada to bring it across Canada.  They were reminded of Kin Canada’s strong ties with Britain through the Milk for Britain campaign and they acknoweldged their appreciation of the dedication of our members.

Eventually they moved onto the stage where they laid what can only be described as a gorgeous wreath made of live roses and other flowers.  It was amazing.

While they observed a moment of silence, the video and still cameras captured each moment and the national commentators shared this important and historic moment with the world.  They shared with Canadians, and with the world, the tremendous personal cost that Canada has paid in our mission to bring freedom to the Afghan people. 

It was an honour to meet the Royals and other dignitaries but that wasn’t the focus of the day.  Today was a day to bring Canadians together to remember, honour and celebrate our Canadian Forces.  Thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, we were able to do that and so much more.

It was most certainly a royal moment for our troops and for their families.

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