William and Kate thrill Slave Lake residents
Prince William and wife Kate thrilled a crowd in the fire-ravaged northern Alberta town of Slave Lake during a walkabout after meeting with displaced families and rescue workers Wednesday afternoon.
The enthusiastic crowd, which had waited for more than an hour as the hot sun wilted their bouquets, hoped to shake hands or at least glimpse the royal couple.
An hour earlier, a couple of thousand people lined the street leading to the Northern Lakes College chanting "Will and Kate, Will and Kate" as the motorcade arrived after touring the neighbourhoods most devastated by the wildfires in May.
The couple landed in Slave Lake just before noon.
The royals met privately for about an hour Wednesday with firefighters and families whose homes were destroyed. William and Kate went from table to table in the college gymnasium shaking hands and speaking to each group for several minutes.
The couple then walked and greeted people along the street before departing for Calgary on a Canadian Challenger jet. After the plane landed at Calgary International Airport, three military choppers were then seen leaving for an undisclosed location.
Marguerite Moore shook hands with Prince William during the walkabout. Moore, 87, has seen four generations of royalty starting with William's great-grandparents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, during their tour of Canada in 1939.
Moore said Wednesday's encounter with the future king left her speechless.
"I was so excited that I sort of went brain-dead and tongue-tied and had to call on my daughter to fill in for me," she said.
Royal couple 'real people'
Slave Lake Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee showed the couple the damage to her community, an experience she later described as "amazing."
"They were very concerned, very caring. Just wanted to reach out to the people of Slave Lake and we are just so grateful for them for taking the time out of their day off to come touch our community," Pillay-Kinnee said.
Slave Lake fire Chief Jamie Coutts was among the people who met with William and Kate at Northern Lakes College. He briefed the couple on how the fire was finally put out, and found them very personable.
"It's easy to forget they're real people," Coutts said. "He's a search and rescue pilot, she sits at home and worries about him when he's on missions and that's a lot like what we did out on the front lines and what our families had to go through.
"It was a real personal connection with them."
The royal visit will boost morale in the town struggling to rebuild, he said.
"Guess you see them on TV and you see them in the magazines and you think to yourself, 'Wow, I'll never meet those people,' and then they're in your town, and you're talking about the things that happened," said Coutts.
"I'm happy for the people of Slave Lake. they got to have a happy day today, lots of smiles, and we haven't had a lot of those."
Lifelong royal watcher Yolande Klyne wasn't one of the 50 people chosen to meet Prince William and Kate. But her persistence paid off after she and her husband got up early Wednesday to stake out a spot in the college parking lot.
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"William just came over and shook my hand and I just told him we had lost our home and him being here meant an enormous deal to us, and he said he was sorry that we'd lost our home," she said.
"Kate just thanked me for the flowers and said she was really enjoying being here.
"Yeah. It was amazing. Wow. They're incredible. They seemed very centred and very sincere."
The couple and their two children have moved three times since the fire destroyed their home with two more moves planned. The royal visit will help keep the rebuilding of Slave Lake in the public's mind, Klyne said.
The day began in nervous anticipation for many Slave Lake residents.
Ampy Michelmann, along with her mom one of 50 families selected to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, spent the morning at a flower shop looking for roses fit for royalty.
"I couldn't believe it," she said early Wednesday morning. "I just don't know what to say. I'm just lost. It's amazing."
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Chantal Tkach's rubble-strewn property was one along the anticipated royal tour route.
"It's quite a sight. I'm sure they'll be shocked just like everybody else.
"I'd like them to drive by when it looks a little better than this."
The final leg of the tour begins Thursday in Calgary.
The Slave Lake trip was a last-minute addition to the official itinerary as the couple wanted to ensure that their visit wouldn't interfere with recovery efforts.
The town, about 280 kilometres north of Edmonton, is rebuilding after a wildfire fanned by powerful winds ripped through the community on May 15.
It forced the evacuation of all 7,000 residents with little more than the clothes on their backs.