William and Kate visit fire-ravaged Slave Lake
Displaced residents see royal visit as a 'boost' to get through tough times.
Thu, Jul 07 2011 at 3:31 AM
VISITING: Prince William and Princess Kate in Ottawa, Canada on July 5. The two visited an area were some 7,000 people lost their homes. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
CALGARY, Canada — Prince William and wife Catherine made a detour in their Canadian visit 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 led to the complete evacuation of the town and the largest such displacement in the province's history.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the fires caused CAN$700 million ($725 million) in damage. Only the havoc left by ice storms that hit eastern Quebec and Ontario provinces in 1998 cost more to clean up — CAN$1.8 billion ($1.9 billion).
Incredibly, no fatalities or injuries resulted from 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 prior to William and Kate's arrival. 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 met privately with members of the local fire brigade, ambulance crews, policemen and residents during a two-hour stopover in Slave Lake, as well as toured the devastation.
Trip organizers said they had waited until the last minute to confirm the stop because they wanted to be assured that the couple's presence would not disrupt the recovery.
The couple had originally planned to take a day off from the meeting and greeting, and official ceremonies, and sneak away for a romantic Rocky Mountain getaway.
After the stop in Slave Lake, they are to head to Calgary for the last scheduled leg of their tour taking in a rodeo on Thursday and Friday, before departing for California on July 9.
In advance of the newly-weds' 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 the nerve center of Canada's oil sector.
On Tuesday, the couple played a bit of hockey in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, the disputed birthplace of Canada's national pastime — several Canadian cities and towns lay claim to the title "cradle of hockey."
Aboriginals there 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.
Copyright 2011 AFP Global Edition