Prince William and Kate launched the Calgary Stampede to the cheers of hundreds of thousands of fans on their final day in Canada on Friday, a trip widely seen as a success as the newlyweds charmed Canadians at every stop.
The pair, sporting white cowboy hats, waved from their car at crowds of well-wishers lined 10 deep along the 2.8-mile (4.5-kilometer) parade route under sunny skies. They later joined hands and pushed a red button to launch the parade, one of the world's largest.
The world famous Calgary Stampede is a 10-day exhibition and rodeo that celebrates the western Canadian way of life.
Canada is the first official overseas trip for the couple since their April 29 wedding, and the newlyweds won raucous cheers almost everywhere they went. They celebrated Canada Day with hundreds of thousands on Parliament Hill, made lobster souffle in Montreal, raced in dragon boats in bucolic Prince Edward Island and went canoeing in the wilds of the vast and remote Northwest Territories.
A much talked about highlight was the boat race in Prince Edward Island when the prince's boat defeated Kate's and William exited the boat to give Kate a warm consolation hug. Kate playfully gave William a shove, as if to push him in the water — showing a competitive, loving and playful side of the couple that had yet to be seen publicly until now.
"Both of them have charmed the people of Canada a great deal," Prince Edward Island resident Linda Patton, 60, said.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge depart for Los Angeles later Friday for a weekend of events ranging from a Santa Barbara polo match to a Skid Row visit
Prince William and Kate appeared to initially snub their western Canadian host on Thursday by declining a time-honored Calgary tradition of wearing white cowboy hats on their arrival at the airport — but more than made up for it later by turning up for a rodeo show decked out in the hats and full western regalia.
"Well, this is different," the prince said with a laugh as he touched the tip of his cowboy hat at a reception Thursday night. "We have been hugely struck by the diversity of this beautiful country: from Ottawa to Quebec; from Prince Edward Island to the Northwest Territories; and now the excitement of Calgary — and what about these fantastic white hats."
William, in his last remarks before he leaves Canada for southern California on Friday, said the nine-day trip to Canada exceeded expectations and promised to return.
The couple was decked out in western wear, with buttoned-down shirts and jeans. The prince opted for the same green checkered shirt that he wore Thursday in Calgary for a bull riding demonstration, and Kate wore a printed white long-sleeved blouse by Alice Temperley, said spokesman Miguel Head.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to the royal couple, noting the rousing welcome they've received by tens of thousands of Canadians who have been eager to see the newlyweds.
"I have to say we haven't seen a love-in like that since the first visit of the Beatles!" Harper said. "Indeed, everywhere you went you left a trail of utterly charmed Canadians in your wake."
William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, remains the head of state in Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth of former colonies.
Harper is the most pro-monarchy Canadian leader since the 1950s, and his ambition is to foster a national identity that is more conservative and more aware of its historical roots. Harper has been shifting the country's ideological bearings from center-left to center-right — a project that lays greater stress on such symbols as the monarchy, the military, hockey and the Arctic.
On Friday, the royal pair is also slated to visit the Calgary zoo and lay a wreath before leaving Canada for Los Angeles. A Canadian military plane will fly William and Kate to Los Angeles, wait for them for a few days and then fly them back to Britain. The Canadian government declined to release the total cost of the nine-day trip to Canada, but said it would cost at least $1.5 million not including security costs.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.