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Canadians celebrate mix of pageantry, modern twists in royal wedding

Last Updated May 19, 2018 at 4:20 pm EDT

People line up to watch the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Princess of Wales Theatre, in Toronto on Saturday, May 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marta Iwanek

As the freshly minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex embark on married life together, many Canadians said the fledgling royal union also marks a new chapter for the monarchy.

With its combination of stately grandeur and touches of modernity, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was hailed by Canadians as a coming-out celebration for a younger generation of royals who promise to shake up the largely ceremonial institution.

For the crowd watching the event unfold on a big screen at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Markle’s adopted home of Toronto, it was also a thrilling first glimpse of the newest royal on her wedding day.

Some attendees were moved to tears. One clutched her chest as Prince Harry seemed to fight back tears at the sight of his bride.

The audience was spellbound as the couple locked eyes and Harry lifted Markle’s veil to reveal a shimmering tiara from the Queen’s collection.

“I actually felt power between the two of them,” said Yolanda McClean. “When he took the veil off and she just smiled, and I knew this was meant to be.”

After months of royal wedding fever, Canadians across the country gathered in the early-morning hours for a broadcast of the lavish marriage ceremony.

The downtown Toronto theatre, which is named for Harry’s late mother Diana, was packed to the brim with about 2,000 fans, many bedecked in top hats, fascinators and tiaras.

Sitting among fellow revellers as the ceremony on the grounds of Windsor Castle unfolded on a towering screen, McClean said “it felt like we were there.”

Given Markle’s special connection to Toronto, where the American-born former actress lived while filming the TV legal drama “Suits,” McClean said it seemed like the city was consumed by nuptial cheer for the honorary local.

“I absolutely feel like Toronto was being represented,” she said. “I actually think she’s representing the world, because I think the world stopped for the wedding today.”

As the bride was about to be shown in her gown for the first time, the theatre was seized with cries of shock as the live broadcast temporarily cut out, followed by sighs of relief when the feed came back on a few seconds later, just in time for the wedding dress to be revealed.

Smiles swept across the theatre as Markle emerged in a resplendent boat-neck white gown, followed by a gaggle of pageboys and bridesmaids including Ben and Jessica Mulroney’s children, who brought a moment of levity when one of them wiped sweat from their brow.

From the front row to the balcony, a hush fell over the theatre as the couple affirmed their commitment, followed by extended applause as Harry and Markle were declared husband and wife.

Most of the crowd rose from their red-cushioned chairs to join a rendition of “God Save the Queen” with their hands over their hearts, some holding up the other to wave the Union Jack. Whoops could be heard as the newlyweds shared a kiss on the steps of the chapel.

Christine Hill, who borrowed her daughter’s tiara for the occasion, said she found the performance by a gospel choir who sang popular hits like Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” to be a refreshing break from the monarchical pomp and pageantry.

The 57-year-old said she hopes Markle and Harry will continue to buck royal tradition for the better as they enter married life.

“I think it’s absolutely needed,” she said. “I think it’s timed that things changed a little bit and welcomed everyone into this century.”

A line for the free viewing party formed before dawn Saturday, stretching beyond the theatre’s marquee and around the corner, forcing many ticket-holders to huddle under umbrellas so they could shield their wedding best from the spitting rain.

Dressed in a royal blue sari with lace, 30-year-old Purnima Kabir said she hadn’t slept because she was too excited for the occasion.

“I hope that (the couple) go really far, because they work really well together as a unit,” Kabir said.

“With the royal family as well as with everyone else, I think they’re not here to disappoint. I think they’re here to stay. They’re here to bring in new rules, new ties.”

Lorena Erazo, who was celebrating her 38th birthday in addition to the royal nuptials, wore a wedding dress so she and her white-tied husband, Mark MacLean, could vie for the grand prize in the theatre’s costume contest — a trip for two to London.

With the winner determined by audience applause, a spry gentleman clad in a straw hat, striped suit and bowtie prevailed as the best-dressed royal watcher.

In Montreal’s Burgundy Lion pub, several dozen people dined on crumpets and a full English breakfast in anticipation of the big moment.

Samantha Elfassy, 23, donned a red fascinator and pulled out a phone to snap some shots as the Queen arrived at the ceremony. Elfassy said she was most excited to see the monarch — and had made bets on the length of the bride’s train.

Deborah Ayre and a handful of her long-time friends showed up in dresses and hats, ooh-ing and aah-ing and occasionally dabbing their eyes throughout the ceremony.

Ayre, who has previously watched the weddings of royal couples Charles and Diana and William and Kate, said she came to witness a historical moment.

Her favourite part was Markle’s entrance, she said, although she also appreciated the multicultural aspect to the ceremony and the apparent “true love bond” between the couple.

“I just wish them all the best, and I think they will make a really significant difference in the world because of their passion and what they care about and what they want to do,” she said.

For Paul Abraham, a retired educator watching the wedding at the Delta Halifax, the event was a can’t-miss milestone for those in the Maritimes who have a long history of affinity for the monarchy.

“We’ve been a garrison city right from day one, and obviously our contributions during the major wars, and our cultural link to the U.K. … sort of deeply embeds the monarchy in our culture here in the East Coast,” he said.

Abraham was also struck by the modern twists to the ceremony.

“It was sort of poignant to see a gospel preacher being so impassioned about the concept of love in the ancient chapel. To me it kind of pointed to the transition from the monarchy of yesterday into the monarchy of today.”

By mid-morning Pacific time in British Columbia, David Spence and his wife Donna Otto said they were recovering from a 3 a.m. breakfast party they helped organize at Victoria’s 139-year-old Union Club.

Spence and Otto, who are president and secretary of the Royal Commonwealth Society of Vancouver Island, respectively, said it was well worth it.

“To quote an ancient hymn writer, I was lost in wonder, love and praise,” Spence said, referencing the 1747 English hymn by Charles Wesley, which was sung at the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Otto, who wore a hot-pink fascinator to the party, said she was enamoured with Meghan’s veil.

“I was especially impressed that her veil was embroidered with certain appliqués of 53 countries of the Commonwealth. I thought, how amazingly appropriate for her new role, standing next to her husband, as ambassador for youth in the Commonwealth,” Otto said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife congratulated the newlyweds in a statement, saying Canada will donate $50,000 to local charity Jumpstart, which makes sports more accessible to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Sophie and I congratulate the newlyweds on behalf of the Government of Canada. We wish Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex a lifetime of happiness, and all the best as they start this new chapter together. We look forward to welcoming them on a future visit to Canada.”

—with files from Percy Sherwood in Toronto, Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Alex Cooke in Halifax

Note to readers: This is corrected story. A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Lorena Erazo and misstated that the Mulroney boys were carrying the train of the gown.