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Will and Kate's Slave Lake visit 'something good'

SLAVE LAKE, Alta. - Karen Scharf plans to hunker down and wait on the blackened lot where her house used to stand if it means catching a glimpse of Prince William and Kate driving by.

SLAVE LAKE, Alta. - Karen Scharf plans to hunker down and wait on the blackened lot where her house used to stand if it means catching a glimpse of Prince William and Kate driving by.

"That's pretty cool, coming to our little town and supporting us for our rebuild," the Slave Lake teacher said Tuesday after a surprise announcement that the royal couple had added her fire-damaged town to their Canadian tour.

Royal officials said the couple have for some months been following the natural disasters that have struck several provinces — the devastating wildfire in Alberta and flooding in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

They expressly wanted to visit Slave Lake, where a wind-whipped blaze reduced more than 400 homes and businesses — about one-third of the town — to cinders in May.

"This is a highlight, them coming," said Scharf. "Something good is happening after everything bad."

She said her daughter, Miranda, is especially excited because she just came home from a holiday in Europe where she caught the royal "fever" from the couple's wedding.

The newlyweds were in the Northwest Territories as part of their nine-day tour when the Slave Lake stop was made official.

Kevin MacLeod, Canadian secretary to the Queen, said it made sense to stop because the town is on the flight path from Yellowknife to Will and Kate's next stop in 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," MacLeod said.

He said it wasn't a last-minute decision.

"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," MacLeod 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."

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach will be joining the couple.

"The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have demonstrated that they are caring and compassionate people who love this country," Stelmach said.

The plan is to leave Yellowknife on Wednesday morning, then fly to the town, about 280 kilometres north of Edmonton, and stay for about two hours.

The prince and his wife will tour devastated neighbourhoods by minibus and visit Northern Lakes College, where they will meet with firefighters, rescue crews and families whose homes were destroyed.

MacLeod said the couple has a deep sense of compassion. Added to that is a great affection for the Commonwealth instilled in William by his family. MacLeod pointed out that the prince visited Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year after a powerful earthquake.

"His attachment to the Commonwealth is repetitive of his grandmother's (the Queen). There's a very strong association with the Commonwealth and he wanted to be there to express solidarity with them and that's the same reason why they wish to be in Slave Lake."

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.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton with files from Dean Bennett

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