Prince Harry and Meghan Markle chose the perfect place to rest and relax with their young son, Archie, over the holiday season before announcing they plan to step back as senior members of the Royal Family, says a Vancouver Island mayor.
North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr said privacy is one of the hallmarks of the district, just north of Victoria, and he likes to think the majestic beaches and forests he visited as a child played a part in the couple's decision.
"They did seem to get around to a lot of the spots I go to and where the residents go," he said.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex reportedly spent the holidays at a secluded beachfront villa in North Saanich, where they were seen exploring the community. They would normally be expected to spend the holidays with other royals at Sandringham.
Meghan, who is American, was back in Canada on Friday, The Associated Press reported. The former actress has long-standing ties in Canada after living in Toronto while filming the TV show "Suits."
Orr said residents told him about encountering Prince Harry hiking to the hilltop at Horth Hill Regional Park with its panoramic views of Satellite Channel, the Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands.
"It's a great place to walk," Orr said. "I'm really pleased they were made aware of it."
Official details of the trip were not released.
Orr said he related completely to the couple's desire to spend time together as a family in a comfortable location. He said he's pleased the royals had the privacy they desired and would welcome their return to visit or stay now that the couple say they will spend more time in North America.
"I would welcome them," Orr said. "I would hope that, should they choose to do something like that, in some ways their experience here would be normalized."
Victoria resident Asymina Kantorowicz said the duke and duchess have already proven to be good neighbours by volunteering to snap selfies of her and her boyfriend on a New Year's Day hike in North Saanich.
Kantorowicz said she was atop Horth Hill with her boyfriend Ilya Pavlovic taking photos when a woman asked if she wanted her to photograph the couple.
"When I looked back there was Meghan smiling right at us and waiting for us to hand over our phone to take the photo," she said. "I didn't fully believe it when I first saw her. It was kind of, 'What's going on?' Then I looked over and I saw Prince Harry standing there with who I believe was (actress) Abigail Spencer and they had two dogs with them. That's when it kind of clicked. The shock hit."
She said she heard Prince Harry say "no pressure" as Markle took the photo.
"She took a few photos for us and then wished us a Happy New Year and they were off," said Kantorowicz.
A spokesman for Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin said the couple's visit to the Victoria area was private and did not involve any official events.
"We were certainly aware of their travels to Canada and we were also aware of their desire to be an entirely private trip to spend some family time over Christmas," said Jerymy Brownridge, Austin's principal secretary. "We know they just wanted to be alone and enjoy the splendours of Canada."
He said it is not uncommon for royals to take private trips in Canada but "typically not those who are in direct line to the throne."