Queen kicks off nine-day tour

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Society Choir from Conne River performs at welcoming ceremony

Bernadette Hearns giggled like a schoolgirl Monday moments after she met the Queen.

"It was so wonderful. She's beautiful," the Halifax woman said as the Queen completed a walkabout at the rain-sodden foot of Citadel Hill, the port city's historic British fort.

"She said, 'I hope you didn't get too wet.'"

Hearns was among an estimated 3,000 people who braved a torrential downpour to see the Queen and Prince Philip as they started a nine-day tour of Canada.

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, attends a Mikmaq cultural event in Halifax Monday as the royal couple began a nine-day tour of Canada. ?Photo by The Canadian Press

Halifax -

Bernadette Hearns giggled like a schoolgirl Monday moments after she met the Queen.

"It was so wonderful. She's beautiful," the Halifax woman said as the Queen completed a walkabout at the rain-sodden foot of Citadel Hill, the port city's historic British fort.

"She said, 'I hope you didn't get too wet.'"

Hearns was among an estimated 3,000 people who braved a torrential downpour to see the Queen and Prince Philip as they started a nine-day tour of Canada.

Only minutes before they arrived at the fort's Garrison Grounds, where a squad of Mounties in soaked red serge stood at attention to greet them, the heavy rain stopped, as if on cue. Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean greeted the Queen as she emerged from her limousine to start her 22nd official visit to Canada.

The rain held off for the ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute, a review of a Guard of Honour, a speech from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and traditional Celtic and Acadian music.

"Look, it's a once in a lifetime," said Hearns, her hair shielded from the rain by a plastic head scarf. "You know ... I'm so excited. It's wonderful. We got soaked. But that's OK."

In a brief speech, the Queen recalled her six decades as Canada's reigning monarch, speaking of her pride in the country's accomplishments and the warmth she felt at the welcoming ceremony.

The 84-year-old recalled the words of the Queen Mother as she reflected on what it means to return to Canada.

"My mother once said that this country felt like home away from home for the Queen of Canada," she said in her first of four speeches during her tour of five Canadian cities.

"As Queen of Canada for nearly six decades, my pride in this country remains undimmed. ... It is very good to be home."

In his address, Harper recalled the Queen's previous visits and the impact they have had on Canadians who have seen her, including himself as a boy when he saw her motorcade a couple of blocks from his house in Ontario.

"Those people treasure those experiences for a lifetime," he said.

After the welcome, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the Halifax Common, a sprawling park in the middle of the city, for a Mi'kmaq cultural event.

A traditional village has been erected in the park as part of a celebration marking the 400th anniversary of the baptism of Grand Chief Henri Membertou.

Walking along the sodden grass with Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, the Queen toured the makeshift village and watched demonstrations inside teepees.

She also took in a Mi'kmaq version of "Amazing Grace" by a youth choir from Conne River.

"It was exciting. I was nervous," said Paula Drew, 16, who sang and danced with the choir. "It means a lot. This is a big opportunity."

Alan Syliboy, a Mi'kmaq artist from the Millbrook First Nation near Truro, N.S., said it was a "real thrill" to present the Queen with one of his pieces, a painting symbolic of Membertou.

"The Queen's always been a part of my life and it's something that it's really hard to believe it happened," said Syliboy, adding the Queen liked the painting "very much."

The Queen last visited Canada in 2005, with stops in Saskatchewan and Alberta. One of the highlights of her visit to Halifax is an event today celebrates the Canadian navy's centennial with a fleet review of about two dozen ships.

She will lead the fleet review on board HMCS St. John's, which will carry her down the centre of two rows of anchored frigates, destroyers, tankers, assault ships, the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal and a Canadian submarine.

The Queen leaves for Ottawa Wednesday and will be on Parliament hill for Canada Day.

She and her husband are scheduled to make stops in Winnipeg and Waterloo, Ont., where they visit the headquarters of Research in Motion, the company that makes the BlackBerry.

A well-known enthusiast of horse racing, the Queen also spends an afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on Sunday for the 150th annual running of the Queen's Plate.

The trip ends July 6 in Toronto.

Organizations: Queen's, Millbrook First Nation, Woodbine Racetrack

Geographic location: Canada, Halifax, Conne River Ontario Toronto Truro Saskatchewan Alberta Ottawa Winnipeg Waterloo

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