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Queen dons waterproofs for soggy birthday party
By Caroline Davies in Edmonton
In pictures: The Queen in Canada
It rained, again. The birthday girl was late, the cake soggy, the celebrations curtailed and the guests left in droves before the end.
Poor Alberta. No place could have tried harder for the Queen. But the elements reduced the province's extravaganza, a year in the planning, to a washout.
The Queen and Prince Philip join the people of Alberta in celebrating the province's centenaryHaving survived a deluge in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Queen again unpacked her beige waterproof cape, unfurled another transparent umbrella (black trim rather than pink - just how many did she bring?) and struck out for the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, the provincial capital, for another dousing.
This was the Victoria Day public holiday, named after the Queen's great-great-grandmother, on which Canadians celebrate her official birthday. It was also the day chosen for "one of the largest parties in our history" to mark 100 years of Alberta's membership of the Confederation.
The Queen did her best, despite her aircraft arriving 15 minutes late. She wore a fur hat at a jaunty angle and matching cuffs, presumably chosen to honour the city's origins as a fur-trading post.
But that did not deter Alberta's premier, Ralph Klein, from trying his best to dislodge it. Leaning in as the Queen cut a sodden vanilla and buttercream cake in the shape of Alberta's legislative building, an errant spoke of his battered umbrella stabbed the fur brim, narrowly missing her eye.
The Queen had arrived with Canada's minister of public safety and emergency preparedness in tow, only to discover Edmonton's preparedness for rain rather lacking.
The wet stage was too slippery for the planned dance spectaculars. Only the valiant White Buffalo Dancers and Drummers made a fist of it, with just one moccasin-shod foot giving way and sending its owner sprawling in a flurry of bedraggled feathers.
In a modest triumph, the traditional 21-gun salute was fired, but from only three field artillery pieces, the fourth having been damaged in a traffic accident while being towed to the stadium.
Only 20,000 Edmontonians of the 50,000 who had free tickets turned out to huddle on the exposed stadium seats.
Among the guests of honour, war veterans sat on polythene-draped seats, protected by plastic see-through ponchos handed out by organisers. First Nation leaders sat alongside them, buckskin and damp feathers protruding from rainwear.
Indeed, as the Queen and Prince Philip walked through a welcoming avenue of plastic-clad well-wishers, they might have been forgiven for believing the rain poncho to be Alberta's traditional attire.
After their arrival many of the crowd bailed out, with barely 5,000 there at the end.
This was the second of the tour's three set-piece events to be ruined by rain. Calgary will stage the third inside, and will delight in Edmonton's misfortune. Its people still smart over losing the vote to be the province's capital a century ago.
Before the Queen could retire, Edmonton had one more treat in store. At a banquet, where she was served bison tenderloin, Mr Klein announced that Highway Two, the 420-mile Edmonton to Calgary corridor, would be renamed "The Queen Elizabeth Highway".
Not only, he boasted, would it be the only highway in Canada named for Her Majesty, but it would be Canada's "longest highway named after a member of the Royal Family".
"This just goes to show that we don't do things by half measure in Alberta!" Mr Klein crowed.
"Happy Birthday, Ma'am. Happy Birthday, Alberta."
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