- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2011

OTTAWA, ONTARIO (AP) - Prince William and Kate travel to the French-speaking province of Quebec on Saturday where protests by a small group of separatists are expected as the royal newlyweds continue a nine-day journey through Canada on their first official overseas trip.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge started the third day of their Canadian tour with a tree-planting ceremony at Government House that has become a royal family tradition and a visit to the Canadian War Museum.

Saturday’s small, low-key gatherings in Ottawa contrasted with Friday’s celebration of Canada Day when Prince William and Kate stole the show as they were feted by Canadian leaders and cheered by tens of thousands who lined the streets to get a glimpse of the royal couple.

Prince William, wearing a dark blue suit, and Kate, dressed in a grey, fitted knee-length Kensington dress by British designer Catherine Walker, each wielded a shovel as they helped plant a Canadian hemlock _ a tree known for its longevity meant to symbolize their marriage.

Their tree was the 17th planted by a member of the British royal family in a tradition dating back to 1939. Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, planted trees on previous visits at Rideau Hall, the official residence of both the Canadian monarch and Governor General, the queen’s representative in Canada.

The royal couple chatted with Canadian newlyweds who were married on April 29, the same day as their royal wedding, as well as couples celebrating their 40th, 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries.

William asked CB Marsh, who recently celebrated his 70th anniversary with his wife Edna, asked what advice he could give him. “I told him the ability to duck. He seemed to enjoy that,” the 94-year-old Marsh said.

The royal couple also met Terry Joyce, 47, who has terminal cancer. Joyce was told six weeks ago that he had 12 weeks to live and said it was one of his last wishes to meet the couple.

“They were very comforting,” he said.

The couple then attended a reception at the Canadian War Museum with veterans of conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan. The couple met with the veterans and with war brides _ about 45,000 women came from Europe to Canada as war brides after World War II, most of them from the United Kingdom.

Moments after entering the museum, the couple walked over to a group of seated women who served as nurses in the Canadian military during World War II and the Korean War. The royal pair spent several minutes with the women.

Some in the room pulled out photos to show the couple, likely taken during the conflicts, asWilliam and Kate listened attentively to their stories. Others handed them flowers.

The royal couple departed Ottawa to Quebec afternoon for a two-day stay. In Montreal, they were to visit a children’s hospital and later put on aprons and take part in a cooking workshop before boarding a navy ship for an overnight trip down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Quebec City.

Quebec nationalist groups said they plan to protest the royal couple’s visit. The militant separatist group, Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois, or Quebecker Resistance Network, announced plans for a a small protest Saturday outside the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre during the royal couple’s visit, said RRQ spokesman Julien Gaudreau.

The group plans a larger protest outside city hall in Quebec City on Sunday, with supporters coming in by bus from other parts of the province, said Gaudreau.

“We want the message to get across that the monarchy is not welcome in Quebec _ there are people who aren’t happy,” said Patrick Bourgeois, leader of the Quebecker Resistance Network. “We want it to be unpleasant for him.”

A 2009 visit by Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, to Montreal was disrupted by more than 200 separatist protesters. The protesters sat in the street, blocking the prince’s way into a ceremony planned at an armory, and threw eggs at the soldiers who were accompanying him and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. The couple were forced to enter the building through a back door and missed an elaborate welcoming ceremony that had been planned.

Prince William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, found herself in the eye of a Quebec nationalist storm during a trip in 1964. As she toured Montreal, helmeted police officers clashed with several hundred boisterous marchers, who flashed obscene, two-finger “V” signs at the young monarch.

In 1990, Canada Day celebrations were disrupted briefly by protesters from Quebec who booed and turned their back on the queen.

However, support for the separatists among Quebeckers has been on the decline in recent years as the 80-percent French-speaking province has enjoyed plenty of autonomy even without quitting Canada.

In the May 2 parliamentary elections, the separatist Bloc Quebecois slumped from 47 seats to 4 in the 308-seat federal Parliament, rendering it all but impotent at the national level at a time when Quebec separatists are also out of office in their own province.

Prince William and Kate arrived Thursday to cheering crowds of thousands in Ottawa, Canada’s largely English-speaking capital. Poised and confident, they have thrilled crowds with warm, unscripted gestures, wading into throngs of well-wishers to shake hands and accept flowers and other gifts.

But the trip to Quebec isn’t expected to be as welcoming. Some Quebec residents this year said they are unexcited about the visit and angry that taxpayer money is being used to pay for the royal tour. Johane Beaupre, a 46-year-old Montreal teacher, said she will not attend a protest but supports the protesters’ cause.

“It’s an unnecessary expense that yields nothing,” Beaupre said of the visit. “(The monarchy) is a thing of the past.”

Michael Behiels, an Ottawa University professor, said there was much hostility between the French and the English in the years following Great Britain’s 1759 Conquest of New France _ which is present day Quebec.

Behiels said public support in Quebec for the British royal family also dropped in the 20th century, after the province’s youth were conscripted to serve in the First and Second World Wars and when Quebec’s separatism movement gained momentum in the 1960s.

The royal couple leave Canada for a three-day trip to California on July 8.

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Associated Press writer Selena Ross contributed to this story from Montreal.