When Al Pace took the stage to accept the Mike Stilwell Lifetime Achievement at the NWT Tourism Conference & Annual General Meeting awards gala, he had 40 years of tourism experience to draw on.
Al Pace, left, owner of Canoe North Adventures in Norman Wells, accepts the Mike Stilwell Lifetime Achievement award from NWT Tourism Chair Don Morin. - Jessica Davey-Quantick/NNSL photo
But of all the stories he could tell the audience, the one that stuck out was the time he taught Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, to pee in the wilderness.
The story began at the very beginning, in 1977 when he first fell in love with the industry that would eventually become his career.
"Forty years ago I got a chance as a high school student to paddle the Coppermine River with a very young Prince Andrew. It was a fantastic opportunity for me, and it changed my life," he said in his acceptance speech at the Nov. 3 awards.
In 1987, a year after Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, they decided to go on a honeymoon canoe trip, and called Pace.
"She'd never paddled a canoe, she'd never been in a tent before," Pace recalled.
The royal duo joined Pace, four men and one woman, paddling the Hanbury River from Sifton Lake.
"We were busying ourselves putting up camp and we knew at some point, the duchess was going to have to pee. There wasn't so much a bush out there on Sifton Lake," he said.
Eventually, Ferguson followed the call of nature out of camp.
"She did the big pull down and we all stood up and said 'we can still see you!' The pants came back up, she walked further out across the tundra, until she was about six inches on the horizon. She did the big pull down again, and we said 'we can still see you!' And finally, as a small dot on the horizon, she had her first pee in the wilderness."
Pace owns and operates Canoe North Adventures with his partner Lin Ward, based from June 1 until September in Norman Wells.
The awards were presented at the close of the annual NWT Tourism Conference and AGM, with nominees selected by the membership.
The community of Ulukhaktok earned the Operator of the Year award after hosting a luxury cruise ship this summer.
The Crystal Serenity arrived in Ulukhaktok on Aug. 29 with more than 1,000 passengers.
The Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers and the Ulukhaktok Central Style Drummers and Dancers visited the ship that evening to give performances.
Anne Kokko, Tourism Development Officer with ITI's Inuvik Region, accepted the award on behalf of the community.
Deanna Buckley, from the Ptarmigan Inn in Hay River, walked away with the Tourism Service Excellence Award.
Brenda Penny and Robert Chenard, operators of Twin Falls Territorial Park, won the Parks Hospitality Award.
- with files from Kassina Ryder