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Royal loo tipped off backcountry lodge visitors

Britain's Prince William checks the sharpness of a Canadian Ranger knife while with his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, at Blatchford Lake, Northwest Territories July 5, 2011.


Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, spent Wednesday night at Skoki Lodge, a jewel of a place outside Lake Louise in Banff National Park. It's the kind of backcountry spot worth a fair bit of trouble to visit; most guests hike (or ski, in winter) up to five hours on a rugged 11-kilometre trail to get there. But - good news for dukes and duchesses on tight schedules - it's also equipped with a helicopter pad.

And now it has a bathroom - which is what tipped lodge guest Dennis Garnhum off that the royals were about to arrive.

"We show up to a rustic lodge that only has outhouses that we've been to before, and as we approached [our cabin] all of a sudden there was a bathroom being completed right beside it," said Mr. Garnhum, who arrived at the lodge on Sunday with his husband, Bruce Sellery, a business journalist, and two friends.

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"We booked our stay ... ages ago, but last month they moved our visit one day earlier. When we arrived on Sunday, the place was buzzing," said Mr. Garnhum, who is artistic director of Theatre Calgary.

The lodge, a national historic site, is extremely remote in a superb setting, and it is beloved by those who stay there, but it's hardly posh. Gourmet breakfasts and dinners are served buffet style, and lunch is a make-it-yourself affair. With no electricity or running water, guests use outhouses and wash with pitchers of warm water they fetch from a common room.

The new facilities have a toilet, sink and bathtub. Skoki Lodge proprietor Charlie Locke said they weren't built specifically for the royal couple, but to replace a bathhouse that burned down a couple of years ago. Asked whether the bathroom would remain in place, he said he couldn't comment.

Mr. Garnhum and his party - although staying in the Riverside cabin where it was built - were not allowed to use the bathroom, which was finished shortly after they arrived.

"What tipped us off was the behaviour of the builders because they popped a bottle of champagne when they were finishing up and that was really weird. And they all stood in front [of the completed bathroom]and Bruce took their photos with their cameras and we thought, 'Why are these guys standing in front of a bathroom taking pictures?' "

Asked what was going on, the bathroom-builders and lodge workers said it was an "experiment" for the next couple of weeks. No one indicated in any way that the royal couple was about to visit.

"To their credit, part of the mystery was no one ever said it for the three days and when we asked questions, they deflected, deflected, deflected," said Mr. Garnhum. "And on the last day the manager, a lovely guy, broke down and said, 'We know there are some VIPs coming; that's all we've been told.' "

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Mr. Locke would not say whether he met the couple, but stressed that they were given the same Skoki Lodge experience all guests receive.

"We did nothing special for them. I think that's what they wanted - an authentic backcountry lodge experience - and we believe we provided what they were looking for. They weren't treated like royalty."

Mr. Garnhum said the lodge went into "lockdown" as he and his party walked out on Tuesday morning, and he heard staff being assembled for a meeting. "And Will and Kate arrived Wednesday afternoon. So [Wednesday]night they slept in the bed that we slept in two nights ago," he said on Thursday.

Mr. Garnhum's party left a note for them in the guest book. "The Riverside cabin is fit for a queen. Enjoy your stay."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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