Prince William reflected on his first visit to Canada with his wife Kate as newlyweds on Saturday in highlighting that their latest trip will focus on the environment, support for young families and mental health initiatives, causes they have championed.

William and Kate had only been married for three months when they arrived in 2011. Now they have young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, who are making their first visit to Canada.

"Catherine and I have asked to meet as many people from as many walks of life as we can while we're here," he said in a speech outside the B.C. legislature to thousands who attended the official welcoming ceremony. "We're very much looking forward to learning about how Canadians are tackling some of the biggest challenges of the day."

The prince also recalled his visit to B.C. as a teenager in the late 1990s, when he was a heartthrob greeted by screaming girls.

"We feel very fortunate to have time to get to really know parts of this country that we did not get to visit in 2011 but of which I have very happy memories as a shy teenager," he said, pausing and grinning. "A few of you remember it too well, I think."

A solemn ceremony at the cenotaph near the legislature marked the start of the official arrival as the couple embark on an eight-day tour of B.C. and Yukon.

Standing alongside Gov.-Gen. David Johnston and his wife Sharon, the skirl of the bagpipes and the sound of a lone bugle preceded the royal couple laying a wreath at the war memorial.

Prince George and Princess Charlotte were not part of the official welcome and they are not expected to be seen much in public during the visit.

The only glimpse of them on Saturday was at the airport, where the royal couple were also greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her son Hamish.

Prince William held George's hand and Kate — wearing a blue hat and dress adorned with the Queen's maple leaf brooch — carried Charlotte as they emerged from the airplane.

Trudeau quipped that travelling with children makes this visit different for the royals.

"As any parent who has travelled with children knows, it is a whole different experience when you bring your family with you. I want to commend you and thank you for introducing our part of the world to Prince George and Princess Charlotte," he said.

"Though let me caution you from my own experience, if they're anything like our kids, getting them back on a plane after a visit to our beautiful West Coast will really be a challenge."

People stood on the side of the highway from the airport to downtown Victoria cheering and taking photos with their phones as the royal motorcade passed. Overpasses were packed with waving people. The windows of the car carrying the royals were down so that they could wave back.

On the legislature lawn, some of the thousands who attended the official welcome had been waiting since noon, more than five hours before the royal couple's arrival.

They were rewarded with the first walkabout of the tour. At Government House, the official residence of the lieutenant-governor where the royal couple are staying, throngs stood outside hoping to see them.

Victoria native Katherine Pitt, who describes herself as a "big fan" of the royal family, turned up before sunrise at the legislature 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."

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 visit will also take the royal couple to Bella Bella, Haida Gwaii and Kelowna in British Columbia as well as Whitehorse and Carcross in Yukon.

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