Will, Kate treated like old friends as their tour hits Canada's Arctic

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YELLOWKNIFE - The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge can expect a warm welcome when they start their day in the land of the midnight sun, which has a reputation for treating British royalty like old friends.

"The Royal Family has a history of passing through here," says Gordon Van Tighem, mayor of Yellowknife, where darkness never truly falls at this time of year.

Prince William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, has visited the northern city on the shore of Great Slave Lake three times — in 1959, 1970 and 1994. His father, Charles, dropped by in 1979. William's uncle, Andrew, brought his new bride Sarah Ferguson in 1987 and canoed the Thelon River, and he is planning to come back later this summer for a private visit.

The ties stretch back even further.

This visit is "really big because we have a treaty with the Crown," said Bobby Drygeese, a member of Treaty 8, which was signed almost exactly 112 years ago between Drygeese's ancestors and William's great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. William and Kate "are part of that treaty, the newcomers to the Crown."

Drygeese, one of the Dene drummers and singers who will welcome the royal couple with music, said this visit will strengthen that link with the Crown.

"That's what my dad and them are saying — we're meeting them again and they're coming to our land again. We're obliging them and accepting them. That's good, my dad said."

Yellowknife and its population of 20,000 hasn't been turning itself upside-down for the roughly 36-hour stopover, which began when William and Kate landed in Yellowknife on Monday night.

A crowd of a couple hundred turned out for their arrival under grey skies and a light drizzle. They were greeted by N.W.T. Premier Floyd Roland and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and presented flowers by two local children before retiring for the evening.

Sidewalk graffiti on Franklin Avenue, the city's main street, wishes Will and Kate a hearty Arctic welcome. Hotel staff have been polishing pictures of the Queen and Prince Philip in their lobbies.

Patrick Chambers was giving a touch of fresh paint to the handrails outside a building that was named in Charles's honour during his visit.

"They're going to be coming up here so we might as well make it look pretty," he said.

Van Tighem said Yellowknife hasn't planned a big, expensive show or fancy display for the royal couple.

"Essentially the same thing we do every spring," he said. "We try and spruce things up and remove the things that show up under the melted snow."

Still, that doesn't mean people are blase.

Ursula Vogt drove more than 700 kilometres from Fort Smith near the boundary dividing Alberta and the Northwest Territories to welcome the future king and his wife.

"I think they're a great couple," she said. "They're beautiful and I've watched William grow up over the years and I enjoyed seeing them getting married. That's exciting as well."

James Williams of Inuvik is looking forward to demonstrating the Arctic sport of high kick. From a standing start, Williams — who is five-foot-10 — can kick a target suspended almost three feet above his head.

"I'm still in shock," he said about the chance to show his stuff. "Every day I was getting a little bit more excited and now it's finally here. I'm pretty excited to do it in front of them."

The N.W.T has estimated that the royal visit will expose the territory to $1 million worth of global advertising.

The official tour is to begin mid-morning Tuesday with a prayer and a welcome song from Drygeese and the Dettah drummers.

"Every time there's a big gathering we bring the drums and we do a prayer song to give thanks for the good journey," Drygeese said. "For centuries, it's been like that."

Children will demonstrate hand games — traditional Dene guessing and gambling contests that are still played today.

Williams and his friends will demonstrate their sports, which have distinct roles in traditional life.

The idea, Williams said, is to "land as smooth as you can instead of having a big thump. When you're out on the land you have to be more quiet and more agile and that's what these sports do."

The couple will also watch, and perhaps play, another traditional Canadian sport — street hockey.

William will observe a session of Youth Parliament and the couple will then be flown by bush plane to a remote lodge for activities with the Canadian Rangers, a largely aboriginal group of reservists who act as the military's eyes and ears in the North.

The Duke and Duchess will also visit Dechinta, a "bush university" that brings northern and southern students together to study and research aboriginal knowledge, traditions and practices. There are also plans for them to go canoeing.

On Wednesday morning, they'll leave for a private day to relax before concluding their nine-day visit at the Calgary Stampede on Friday

"My wife said, 'Isn't it nice that yet another young Royal Family, as they're moving into their public life, are coming to northern Canada,'" said Van Tighem.

"And so it is."

Geographic location: Canada, Arctic

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