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Northern leaders share condolences and memories of Prince Philip


NWT leaders shared their condolences and memories Friday after Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died at the age of 99.

Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, passed away peacefully at Windsor Castle, just west of London, according to the official Twitter account of the British Royal Family.

'Empowered young people'

Premier Caroline Cochrane said in a news release that she was “deeply saddened” to learn about the passing of the Prince.

Prince Philip, left, and Queen Elizabeth take a tour of Yellowknife during their visit on Aug. 22, 1994. NNSL photo

“Prince Philip was a man who made many sacrifices in his life so we could enjoy the freedoms we have today,” Cochrane said. “This was most evident during his time as a decorated naval officer during the Second World War. He spent much of his life working to help others and provide opportunities to those who may not have been as fortunate.

“Through his community work and philanthropy, His Royal Highness has empowered millions of young people around the world to strive for greatness and believe in themselves, including many Canadians.”

Cochrane noted that many Northerners will remember his visit to the NWT in 1970 for the one hundredth anniversary celebrations of the creation of the Northwest Territories.

Prince Philip meets with Indigenous leaders in Yellowknife on Aug. 22, 1994. NNSL photo

Philip and Queen Elizabeth visited Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Fort Providence, where they kicked off a canoe race down the Mackenzie River.

“Prince Philip cared deeply about leaving the world in a better place for future generations to come, so they could have all the opportunities they could hope and dream of. His work in the volunteer sector, his interest in wildlife conservation has left a long-lasting impact across the globe,” Cochrane said.

Interest in environmental concerns

Nellie Cournoyea, who served in the early 1990s as the sixth premier of the NWT - and the first female premier - met and travelled with Philip and Queen Elizabeth during their trip to the territory in 1994.

Speaking over the phone from her home in Tuktoyaktuk, Cournoyea said she gave the royal couple a tour of Yellowknife and flew with them for a trip to Rankin Inlet, which at the time was in the NWT.

Leaders of the Dene Nation meet with Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth in Yellowknife on Aug. 22, 1994. NNSL photo

“I met Philip, but he sort of stayed in the background, even on the plane. I didn't talk to him much. I talked to the Queen a lot,” she said.

“I think he was doing his duty, he knew what his place was and he was trying to make it good for (the Queen). I felt that he was really supportive of her. You had the feeling from him that he knew what his job was and how he had to represent the Commonwealth. You had to respect that because it's a very difficult job. He seemed to be a very aware person. From what I saw he had a very independent nature.”

Cournoyea remembers their visit to Rankin Inlet and the particular interest Philip showed in local environmental concerns.

“His questions were more about living in the Arctic environment. I felt they were very knowledgeable questions, not just polite questions.”

He met an Inuit man and, through an interpreter asked him about caribou populations in the area.

Prince Philip speaks at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife for a Duke of Edinburgh Awards ceremony on Aug. 22, 1994. NNSL photo

“He asked the man what he did with the caribou. The man responded, 'we eat them.' (Philip) seemed a little taken aback by that,” Cournoyea said with a laugh.

The former premier hopes Philip receives the proper respect and condolences he is due.

“I come from an on-the-land lifestyle. We can only live so long,” she said.

'Dene remember representative of the Crown'

For Michael McLeod, MP for the NWT, the loss of someone from the royal family brings to the minds of many people the treaties that the Dene signed with the Crown.

“That's of significant importance,” he said.

McLeod was a child when the Queen and Prince visited Fort Providence in 1970.

He remembers a buzz in the air of the Dehcho community, where officials were hurrying around making preparations for the visit and building stages and platforms.

“There were a lot of people from all over the North. A lot of the Elders were quite impressed that we would have the Queen, the representative of the actual Crown that the Elders had signed treaties with. People were very excited to see her and meet her. She came through and met some of the racers, she talked to paddlers. We all followed as a crowd. We were in awe of somebody so important visiting us in our community.”

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip speak with a Girl Guide near Yellowknife City Hall on Aug. 22, 1994. NNSL file photo

He also remembers the royal couple brought and handed out buffalo meat in Fort Providence.

“We were cooking it and it was the first time many of us had tasted buffalo. They were protected animals. We weren't allowed to hunt them until the 1990s. Until the herd hit about 2,500 they were protected and listed as threatened.

When the canoe race was about to start, Philip stood on a large boat in the river near the paddlers and fired a centennial rifle to start the race. Dozens of canoeists then started paddling, heading up the river on their way to Inuvik.

“I think there was one paddler for every community along the river and maybe for every community along the lakes,” McLeod said.

“I think everybody is kind of saddened by the fact that somebody who has been in the public eye for most of our lives is no longer around. (Philip) was the companion, the husband of the Queen. For many people that's important.”

'Walked behind by a few steps'

Local photographer Bill Braden was a teenager when the royals visited Yellowknife in 1970, a time he describes as exciting because the city had been declared the territorial capital three years previously.

"I remember a barbecue for them by Frame Lake and what was then the main recreational park for the town. All the royal family was there. It was like a big community wiener roast. It was very casual and cordial," he said.

Twenty-four years later, Braden had become a reporter with NNSL Media and covered the royal visit in 1994.

Though the logistics of the event were far more controlled than in 1970, he said the access that members of the media had to the royals was remarkable.

"It was all carefully choreographed. We could still get very close to them, close enough that I could have shook hands with them, if it was allowed. But none of the royal family made eye contact with us. They ignored us. Which is understandable, they're such public figures. They're in the glare of the media all the time."

Braden also shot photos of the Queen opening the new legislative assembly building. Michael Ballantyne was the speaker of the house.

"I got a great photo of Mike escorting the Queen into the building," he said.

A news release Friday in which House Speaker Frederick Blake Jr. expressed condolences on Philip's death included a GNWT image of that event.

Queen Elizabeth opens the new legislative assembly in Yellowknife on Aug. 22, 1994. GNWT image

But during that ceremony, Philip said nothing, Braden recalls.

"It was always the Queen who did those things. He, as they say 'walked behind Britain by a few steps.' That was (Philip's) way of putting it because the Queen was the face of the Commonwealth."

Royals 'put everyone at ease'

Barb de Bastiani and her family were at Yellowknife City Hall when the royal couple inspected an honour guard of scouts and beavers, including her son Thomas.

“He had to undergo a security check," said de Bastiani. "We thought that was so funny because he was only six!”

She remembers that Philip and the Queen had a graciousness about them as they interacted with members of the crowd.

“It didn't matter who they spoke with. They had this openness about them and put everyone at ease and made everyone feel welcome.”

Thomas said with a laugh that he wishes he could remember more from Aug. 22, 1994.

“I remember it being a momentous day,” he said.