The Bow was swelling to the roadway in places, as I drove west. It looked like an African river, brown and crowded with debris, implements, trees, the detritus of bank life, something beyond our control.
By the time I slipped past Lake Louise 40 minutes later, the sun was out and I was on my way. I felt lucky again.
Ian Brown is the Banff Centre/Globe and Mail Canada correspondent.
Our greatest moment
This is the year a mud-covered rubber boot dethrones a cowboy boot as Calgary’s iconic summer footwear. This is also the year we stop remembering the ’88 Olympics as Calgary’s greatest moment.
I’ve lived all of my 40 years here, my affection for the city waxing and waning. There have been times, especially at the peak of our boastful booms – or when the votes are counted after every federal election – when Calgary gets me down. Every now and again it feels like a metropolis fuelled by ruthless self-interest. There is another side to this city, though – a side that has always been there but has shone especially bright in the past few days. The flood, for all the damage and heartbreak it brought, has exposed the inherent goodness of this city and its citizens. Calgarians are behaving as if they’ve always wanted this chance to do good.
It’s not just the volunteers we’ve seen on the news offering their hands and backs to clean out flooded basements. As I write this, restaurants and food trucks are giving away meals, U-Haul is offering free storage, and at least one landlord of an apartment building in the flood zone has forgiven his tenants’ July rent. A dress shop is donating grad gowns to distressed teen girls who’ve lost theirs in the flood. Strangers are doing each other’s laundry. They’re watching each other’s kids and pets. Just like the flood waters themselves, the response swelled into a movement everyone wants to take part in.
An oft-told joke about Calgary goes like this: How many Calgarians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Ten. One to screw it in, nine to reminisce about how great the 1988 Olympics were. There will be a new punch line to this old joke: It still takes ten Calgarians to screw in a light bulb. One to screw it in, the rest to tell you how kindly we treated each other during the floods of 2013. The accumulation of intimate compassion has usurped the grand spectacle of ’88 and redefined us. From now on, we will be known by what we’ve done these past few days. And what we will continue to do in the days that follow.
There will be those elsewhere in the country who will see a bit of smugness coming from Calgary right now. A hint of self-congratulation. But in the light of our Olympian efforts and countless expressions of grace, we’ve earned the right to be proud of ourselves. This is Calgary’s new greatest moment.
Marcello Di Cintio is this year’s winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Walls:Travels Along the Barricades.
I used to have recurring flood dreams. The water was always clear and filled a house the way water fills a glass. I could swim around and up the stairs, and look down at the furniture as though the house had become an enormous aquarium.
I asked a friend what flood dreams meant. She shrugged, “They’re supposed to be about creativity, I think. Or maybe blocked creativity.”
A real flood is dirty, muddy and devastating. A real flood is nothing like the crystal water of my aquarium dreams. Six days after the Alberta floods, the Elbow River, one block from my condo building, shines milky-brown. The neighbourhood is still under mandatory evacuation, without power, an apocalyptic scene of roadblocks and mud-caked volunteers helping residents haul ruined possessions to the curb. Thick hoses pump water from basements. Generators roar.
I skulk the streets around my building. The water has marked its depth against cars and buildings and windows the way tree rings record a cedar’s age. Only the top three inches of an SUV are unstained. On both sides of the Elbow, residents’ lives are exposed in piles. Everything is soaked or caked the same shade of brown.