Their Excellencies were able to experience a strong dash of what Hay River had to offer in a little more than a day.
A down-to-the-second itinerary and a crew of around a dozen trailed Gov. Gen. David Johnston and wife Sharon Johnston from West Channel to K’atl’odeeche to the Hay River Ski Club and spots within town limits as a security plane circled overhead throughout their visit.
The trip to the territory marked the completion of official visits to all 10 provinces and three territories, with Hay River on the tail-end of the itinerary after visits to Yellowknife and Fort Smith.
Mayor Kelly Schofield said that the town only found out that the visit would take place two weeks previous to the date, and responded in true Hay River style: last minute but fully present.
“It was a challenge to the organizers because we all had to be discreet,” said Schofield. “But Hay River, as usual and as always, was able to host a prestigious event and we are pleased as punch that everybody pitched in.”
The Government of Canada jet descended on the tarmac at the 3 p.m. sharp to meet local MLAs, mayor, and dignitaries and received a royal salute from the Hay River Canadian Rangers before being escorted to their first event.
After being honoured with the presentation of a Metis sash, their Excellencies were tucked into a sled for a traditional Metis dogsled at Beck’s Kennels.
Chilled cheeks and limbs after an exhilarating run, Johnston mentioned his intent to return “with the grandkids” to kennel owners Danny and Debra Beck.
This wasn’t the Johnston’s first trip to the territory.
He and wife Sharon and three of their youngest children travelled here more than 30 years ago with northern bush pilot Max Ward to a wilderness camp by the Coppermine River.
“I remember we spent one entire day sitting on a rock while caribou migrated in hundreds and hundreds,” said Johnston. “Fishing for arctic char and grayling, we could catch a fish every time you put your line in, it was quite wonderful.”
Fast forward 30 years later on a slightly less inconspicuous visit, Johnston said all the fanfare, activity, even spectators didn’t detract from the warm welcome.
“It’s been wonderful, quite remarkable; people here have very large hearts,” he said.
“We’re enormously impressed not only with the people but with the land and we’ll come back with our eight little grandchildren.”
Following the dogsled, a caravan of vehicles travelled to K’atl’odeeche First Nation for official photos, a feast, drum dancing and meeting with elders, band councillors and members of the community.
An early rise brought the entourage to a guided ice fishing tour on the Great Slave Lake by fisherman Shawn Buckley.
The 70 year-old governor general wasn’t afraid to take some chances.
Johnston took the driver’s seat of the bombardier and took it for a short spin, and both their Excellencies took a drink straight from the lake.
They also had a chance to discuss the local fishing industry—of which both their Excellencies were well versed.
Buckley shared some of the frustrating restrictions of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation to a sympathetic and supportive ear.
Some of the smoked fish served that morning—mainly ling and inconnu—should have a higher value, said Buckley, but can’t be sold through FFMC because of restrictions.
Although nervous, Buckley said the trip went smoothly.
“I’m just a simple fisherman but when I’m outside doing what I do, I’m in my element,” said Buckley. “Once you meet them, they’re sweet warm people—really down-to-earth folks.”
It was a large scale event at the Hay River Ski Club that took place concurrently with Arctic Winter Games biathlon trials that closed off their visit.
The ceremony involved local artists, musicians, authors, and cultural acts from Ecole Boreale and a short meet and greet before the event tapered off to a close and attendees filtered out of the once filled room.
“This was huge for Hay River,” said Schofield.
“I’d like to thank their Excellencies for allowing the people of the South Slave to be able to show who we are and what we are made of,” said Schofield.