Royal family lands in Victoria, kickstarts Canadian visit by meeting Justin Trudeau: ‘This is a big deal’

VICTORIA — Prince held his toddler son’s hand and his wife Kate their infant daughter down a set of aircraft stairs as they arrived in Victoria on Saturday for a week-long visit to and Yukon.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images
/ Getty ImagesPrince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince of Cambridge and of Cambridge arrive at the on Sept. 24 for an eight-day visit to B.C. and Yukon.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were met at the airport by , Premier Christy Clark and Gov.-Gen. David .

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian PressFrom left: Governor General of Canada David Johnston, Sharon Johnston, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Lt.-Gov. of British Columbia Judith Guichon stand on the tarmac as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in Victoria on Sept. 24.

Prince William emerged from the plane holding the hand of Prince George, dressed in a light blue sweater. The young prince waved at onlookers from the runway apron. Kate — wearing a blue hat and dress adorned with the Queen’s maple leaf brooch — carried Princess Charlotte.

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian PressThe visitors step off the plane in Victoria on Sept. 24.

They were scheduled to participate in a welcoming ceremony at the B.C. legislature on Saturday evening. The royal couple and their children will be based in Victoria for the duration of their tour.

Hundreds of people lined blue gates criss-crossing the legislature lawn, many sporting small Canadian and British Columbia flags in their hands, hats or hair. Many had been waiting since noon, more than five hours before the royal couple’s scheduled .

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian PressPrime Minister Trudeau, centre-left, greets the visitors in Victoria on Sept. 24.

Victoria native Katherine Pitt, who describes herself as a “big fan” of the royal family, turned up before sunrise to snag a front-row seat to the event, armed with a picnic blanket, food and an iPad loaded with the last season of the historical drama “Downton Abbey.”

“This is a big deal,” said Pitt, who has previously seen Prince Andrew and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex.

“It’s a great opportunity. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance for most of us here in Canada, anyway. We’re just happy to be here.”

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian PressTrudeau, centre, kneels to talk to Prince George in Victoria on Sept. 24.

Not even homework from her English literature class could keep Sara Kidd, a 20-year-old student at the University of Victoria, away from the festivities.

She and two friends spent the hours before the royal arrival sitting on the legislature lawn, heads burrowed in textbooks, sustained by chips and dip.

“We brought our books because we don’t have three hours to not be studying,” she said, laughing. “We’re mostly excited to see Prince George.”

Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesPrince George raises his right leg in Victoria on Sept. 24.

Not everyone attended the event just for the royal family.

Mathu Jeyakumar, a 23-year-old Polish exchange student, said the prime minister was the main draw for her and her friends.

“Personally, we like Justin Trudeau a lot,” she said, giggling along with three fellow students.

“He’s cute. He’s cool. He’s so friendly.”

Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesTrudeau waits at the Victoria airport before the visitors' arrival on Sept. 24.

On Sunday, William and Kate travel to Vancouver, where their itinerary includes a visit to Sheway, a pregnancy outreach program for mothers struggling with drug and alcohol issues in the heart of the city’s Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood known for its extreme poverty, homelessness and drug addiction.

The royals will also visit the indigenous community in Bella Bella on B.C.’s remote central coast and fly over the area’s Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesCrowds wait for the Royal Family to arrive in Victoria on Sept. 24.

At Haida Gwaii, on the province’s northern coast, the royal couple will go on a sea-going canoe trip from historic Skidegate Landing to the Haida Heritage Centre and Museum.

The tour takes the duke and duchess to a food festival at an Okanagan vineyard in Kelowna, and indigenous cultural events at Whitehorse and Carcross in Yukon.

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian PressThe Duchess of Cambridge (centre) holds her daughter Princess Charlotte (right) as she speaks to her son Prince George in Victoria on Sept. 24.

This is the royal couple’s second visit to Canada.

Their first trip to Canada followed their 2011 wedding, taking them to Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Summerside, Yellowknife, Calgary and Slave Lake after that community was ravaged by a forest fire.

Prince William last visited British Columbia on holiday in 1998 with his brother, Prince Harry, and his father, Prince Charles.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesThe Duchess (centre) and Princess Charlotte (right) arrive in Victoria on Sept. 24.
Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesPrince William's flag flies out of the pilot's window as his plane arrives in Victoria on Sept. 24.
Chris Jackson / Getty Images
Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesThe family disembarks in Victoria on Sept. 24.

About Dirk Meissner and Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press