YELLOWKNIFE — Royal officials say Prince William and Kate have been following the natural disasters that have struck several provinces for quite some time and want to visit the northern Alberta town ravaged by a wildfire.
More than 400 homes and businesses — about one-third of the community — were destroyed in Slave Lake in May by a wind-whipped forest fire.
And thousands have been forced from their homes by floods across the country.
“Their Royal Highnesses have been following the tragic events in … Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta for several months,” Kevin MacLeod, Canadian secretary to the Queen, said after the side trip to Slave Lake was confirmed Tuesday in Yellowknife.
The royal couple were in the Northwest Territories as part of their nine-day tour when the surprise announcement was made.
“In his Canada Day address on Parliament Hill, (William) made specific reference to his desire and hope that those lives would get back on track and that life will continue.”
MacLeod said it made sense to stop in Slave Lake because it is on the flight path from Yellowknife to Calgary.
“They expressed a desire to go into Slave Lake and meet with the rescue workers, to meet with the families, and see first-hand the devastation that has affected that community and … wish them well as they go about reconstructing their lives and their community.”
The plan is to leave Yellowknife on Wednesday morning and fly to the town, about 280 kilometres north of Edmonton, where the royals are to mingle with residents for about two hours.
The couple are to meet with firefighters, rescue crews and families whose homes were destroyed. They will also tour devastated neighbourhoods.
“It wasn’t a last-minute decision,” said MacLeod. “It’s something that they’ve been thinking about for a while. Certainly we were consulted, but their overriding concern was that if it were to go forward, they did not want a public announcement early on for fear that it would somehow detract from those people who are now putting in place all the reconstruction efforts,” he said.
“It was only when assurances that their visit would not in any way detract from that ongoing process that the determination was made that the visit would go forward.”
After they leave the town, the Duke and Duchess will go on a day-long retreat at an undisclosed location before concluding their visit in Calgary on Friday.