Prince Andrew spent this past weekend in Norman Wells, N.W.T., where he enjoyed a canoe trip with friends and helped locals celebrate the opening of an upgraded float plane base.

Queen Elizabeth's second son was in town Saturday for the official opening of the improved North-Wright Airways float base and wilderness expedition support centre, which residents hope will draw more adventure tourists to Canada's North.

The visit to the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region was the fifth for the Duke of York, who has taken part in regular canoe trips with school chums he first met at Ontario's Lakefield College School in 1977.

Earlier in the week, Andrew completed a 12-day paddling trip with 10 former classmates and their former headmaster along the Horton River.


Prince Andrew paddles along the Horton River in the Northwest Territories, in this photograph taken by a friend and former classmate from Lakefield College School. ((Courtesy Michael Peake))

"I've been in awe of the great open expanse and space there is up here, and the opportunity to spend time travelling down the river learning how it was done," Andrew told the CBC's Brandy Yanchyk in an exclusive interview.

Al Pace, a friend of Andrew's and the owner of Canoe North Adventures, said about $2 million was raised to improve the facilities in Norman Wells.

"Our commitment in 2009 was to develop an infrastructure here to assist and facilitate canoe-trippers and hikers to access the Mackenzie Mountains," Pace said.

Bob McLeod, the N.W.T.'s minister of industry, tourism and investment, said the float base upgrades are "fantastic."

"As the government of [the] Northwest Territories, we see this as a legacy project," McLeod said.

Recent royal visits

Andrew attended Lakefield College School, a private preparatory school near Peterborough, Ont., on an exchange program for two terms in 1977, according to the school's website.

After Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, the couple travelled to the Northwest Territories in 1987, both on official business and for a personal canoe trip on the Thelon River. The couple divorced in 1996.

In January, Ferguson camped on a frozen lake near Yellowknife as part of Finding Sarah, a reality television series that is airing on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

Andrew's northern trip came weeks after Prince William and his wife, Kate, went canoeing on Blachford Lake  on July 5, as part of the newlyweds' whirlwind tour of the Northwest Territories.

"I have grown to live and appreciate what the North means, not only to you, the people who live here all the time, but also the people of Canada," Andrew told the audience at Saturday's opening ceremony.

Business owners in Norman Wells said they hope the float base upgrades, along with Andrew's expressed passion for the area, will lead to more people wanting to embark on their own regal wilderness adventure.