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SHARING IN ROYAL BLISS; Britain is the celebrity epicenter for the world today as William and Kate get married, and its pageantry means special tingles for watchers just north of our own border

Americans might be curious about the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, but many nearby Canadian residents with historic ties to Britain are positively mad about it.

Wedding hat business is through the roof. Pajama parties starting long before sunrise are common. Canadian accents have been temporarily replaced by British ones. And by last weekend, gift shops were wiped out of everything bearing the image of the royal couple.

"Do you know how many times I've had people come in and buy tons of stuff for tea parties?" said Gail Cunningham, a sales associate at the Scottish Loft on Queen Street.

Tea towels, plates, cups, saucers, posters, magnets, you name it. Gone. Carted off to the homes of party-throwing wedding-watchers who had planned to be up by 4:30 a.m. today and open their doors to their pajama- and pearls-wearing guests.

Andrew Counsell, the store manager, showed not a trace of embarrassment when asked whether he planned to be up early to watch the royal wedding.

"Absolutely, I will," he said. "I'm a monarchist through and through."

Not all Canadians had a die-hard interest in the matrimonial proceedings. But a good number in this region can trace their heritage back to the days when their families were exiled from America for supporting the wrong side in the American Revolution.

For them, watching royal weddings is a family tradition.

When one group of older women making their way down Queen Street was asked if they had any interest in watching the royal wedding, they stared back as if the answer were self-evident. "We're Canadian," said June Lockwood, 80, of Stoney Creek, whose family has been in the country for six generations.

Her friend Donna Sorrell, of Windsor, said she planned to wake up at 4:30 a.m. She had gotten up early for the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, and other royal weddings since, she said. At age 77, she wasn't about to miss this one.

"I'm going back to bed when it's all over," she said.

Several storefronts honored the big day with displays.

The BeauChapeau Hat Shop window included a bridal dress, a copy of the wedding invitation and a sign proclaiming that its hats are "fit for royalty." The fact that the bride had issued a "hat required" dress code for female wedding guests amounted to a huge boom in business.

BeauChapeau manager Tricia Golob said the shop hadn't seen this type of hat-buying frenzy since the Indiana Jones fedora fad of the 1980s. But even with wedding-appropriate pillbox hats and fascinator head pieces selling for anywhere from $29 to $379, it has been difficult to keep up with demand, she said.

"And we've had a lot of people -- they don't just buy one; they buy two," she said.

Kathy MacPhee, 51, was one of the store patrons hunting for a hat to wear to a girlfriend's royal wedding tea party scheduled to start at 3 this morning. The pj's were fine attire, she said, but a hat, pearls and gloves were required.

"I'm not a royal family watcher," said MacPhee, who apologetically stated that she grew up in Quebec, "but I do love weddings."

At Taylors Bakery & Ice Cream Shop, storefront window designer Jo-Anne Kay had barely gotten her royal wedding window display together this week before passers-by were asking if the commemorative plates of William and Kate were for sale.

In the opposite bakery window, very British pastries such as scones and English ginger cakes also were on display, ready to capitalize on the many wedding tea parties being held today.

While some folks were more than ready for the whole royal wedding to blow over, Kay said, many others have embraced the symbolism of the day.

"I do feel that's what people are happy for -- a new beginning for Britain," she said.

Danna Hazanovsky, 17, said her biggest interest in the wedding was a little more basic.

"I want to see, mostly, the dress," she said.

Danna, a Toronto resident who was in Niagara-on-the-Lake this week as part of a school field trip, said she signed up for a free wake-up call from the Toronto Star, which pledged to ring her phone between 4:30 and 5:30 this morning.

She said she wants to be able to tell her own children someday that she saw the wedding of the man and woman destined to become king and queen of the British realm. "I think they make a cute couple," Danna said.

Businesses all over Southern Ontario have done their best to capitalize on the royal wedding fervor.

Lynne Gill, guest services manager at the Olde Angel Inn, listed English beer and food specials in honor of "English Week" from last Friday through today, honoring both St. George's Day (the patron saint of England) and the royal wedding.

"We've trained about three-quarters of the staff to speak with English accents," she said.

The historic Keefer Mansion Inn in Thorold, south of St. Catharines, has been offering royal wedding packages and and serving royal wedding lunch buffet and dinner with "Kate's Favourite Sticky Toffee Pudding" and "William's Favourite Cottage Pie." Replays of the wedding will be aired during lunch.

Amy Ball, sales and marketing manager, said she came up with the royal wedding tie-in weeks ago. Many other local establishments have since followed suit. She pointed out that the entire region was settled with "United Empire Loyalists" who came to Canada after suffering persecution for supporting the Crown during the American Revolution.

That included John Keefer, original owner of the 120-year-old red stone mansion. Ball herself came from a family of Loyalists that was given a land grant from King George six generations ago.

It seems fitting, she said, that the mansion would host a spring event to showcase loyalty to the mother country, though modern feelings about Canada's ties with Britain and the royal family are mixed.

"There's really no gray here," she said. "You either love them or you hate them."

For many, she said, the royal wedding is more of an excuse for a girls' day out and a chance to dress up a little.

"And really," she said, "it's all about the pretty hat."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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