William and Kate detour to fire-ravaged Slave Lake
Prince William and wife Catherine were to make a detour in their Canadian visit on Wednesday to Slave Lake, where 400 homes and businesses were razed by forest fires in Canada's second-costliest disaster.
Some 7,000 people fled the town, 280 kilometers (155 miles) north of Edmonton, Alberta, when outback fires fanned by strong winds suddenly swept through in mid-May. It was a complete evacuation of the town and the largest such displacement in the province's history.
And, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the fires caused CAN$700 million (US$725 million) in damage. Only the carnage left by ice storms that hit eastern Quebec and Ontario provinces in 1998 cost more to clean up, CAN$1.8 billion (US$1.9 billion).
Incredibly, no fatalities or injuries were reported in the Slave Lake disaster as families fled with only their pets and photo albums in hand, waiting up to six weeks after the blazes cooled to return and sift through ash and debris.
"I'm very excited by (the royal visit)," Sandi Gaskell whose home was destroyed told public broadcaster CBC. She has been living in a trailer at a campground and has only just returned to work.
"I suppose it distracts from our own situation. We've lost something. We've lost lots. It's an exciting occasion."
As Slave Lake residents begin to rebuild, another area resident added, "Kate and Will coming will give us the boost to get through this and know that better things are coming."
The duke and duchess of Cambridge were expected to meet privately with members of the local fire brigade, ambulance crews, policemen and residents during a two-hour stopover in Slave Lake, as well as tour the devastation.
Trip organizers said they had waited until the last minute to confirm the stop because they wanted to be assured that their presence would not disrupt the recovery.
Afterwards, they are to resume the scheduled part of the tour ending with a rodeo in Calgary before departing for California on July 9 for the much shorter US leg of their North American tour.
In advance of William and Kate's arrival in Calgary, thousands of well-wishers began lining streets as early as Tuesday for a chance to see the royal golden couple when they land in Calgary.
On Tuesday, the couple played a bit of hockey in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories -- the disputed birthplace of Canada's pastime (several Canadian cities and towns lay claim to the title "cradle of hockey").
Area aboriginals signed Canada's first Arctic treaty 112 years ago at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush with William's great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. A century later, she is still affectionately referred to as "grandmother" by locals.
Their enthusiasm for William and Catherine was unbridled, going absolutely wild when the prince ended a speech saying "Mahsi Cho" and "Quyanainni," Dene and Inuvialuktun words for "thank you."
Dene is spoken throughout the territory, including in the capital of Yellowknife, while Inuvialuktun is spoken by the Inuvialuit along the coast of the Arctic Ocean.
During this stop in the far north the royal couple also visited a school that teaches aboriginal culture, touring its organic garden, a tipi with plant medicines and fish drying, and an area used for preparing animal hides.
Arriving in a bush plane, they departed in a canoe.
And they shared tea and bannock, a kind of flat bread, around a fire pit with Canadian Rangers, who patrol the far reaches of Canada's Arctic, after discussing with them the challenges they face in the wilds of the north.
© 2011 AFP