Late in the flood-relief concert in southeast Calgary, Gordie Johnson, the Alberta-raised frontman for the band Big Sugar, summed it up nicely: “There’s been no fighting, no riots, no looting. That’s cool, Calgary.”
He went on to play O Canada on his guitar before flipping it over to reveal a red Maple Leaf painted on its back. The crowd roared in approval.
Parts of Calgary are still submerged under the overflow of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, but the waters are slowly receding and the mood here is changing from worry to anticipation, an eagerness to get on with an orderly restoration. No fighting, no looting, just a whole lot of cleaning up.
Doing, after all, is what Calgarians do best. This is a city that hums to a thank-God-it’s-Monday rhythm; a place where vitality and volunteerism were born of the Calgary Stampede Exhibition and Rodeo and honed to a civic duty by the 1988 Winter Olympics. If you are not part of the solution in Calgary, you had better get out of the way because there’s work that’s getting done – donations are being made, people are opening up their homes to strangers, and the cleanup effort has become a shared experience.
But there’s still much more to do. While no financial estimate has been assigned to the overall damage, the visuals have been striking – a downtown awash in muddy water, 100,000 people evacuated from their homes, even photos from inside a flooded Scotiabank Saddledome, where the water-covered seats look like deck chairs aboard the Titanic wreck.
“No one in this city anticipated the gravity of this flood,” Calgary Flames’ president Ken King said after surveying the Saddledome sinking.
The reaction, though, is in keeping with the history of the city and province.
In less than 48 hours, the Red Cross raised $2.1-million in Alberta flood relief donations. Calgary’s Sled Island music festival was cancelled but the performers put on a street concert to collect money for victims. Communities close to the downtown, Ramsay and Inglewood, held a Food For Neighbours party. Suburban communities, such as Parkland, turned its annual Summer Solstice festival, headlining Big Sugar, into a flood-relief affair.
Recreational centres throughout the four quadrants of the city were turned into shelters for those displaced from their homes. Olympic athletes Jesse Lumsden, Helen Upperton and others volunteered and helped ready beds for evacuees who came to Canada Olympic Park. No one was turned away, mostly because hundreds of Calgarians used Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Craigslist and offered to take people into their homes.
“We had five or six calls and are still waiting to hear back from some,” said Ken Denchuk, who advertised on Kijiji that he and his wife Darlene were willing to open their home just north of Calgary to those in need, even if they brought pets with them. No one has yet taken them up on their offer.
“I just felt if I was in the same position someone would do the same thing,” added Mr. Denchuk.
On Sunday, 65,000 people were allowed to return to their homes and what some found was disaster mixed with gratitude.
Bowness resident John Fitzgerald had close to 20 people helping clean his basement and garage, which had been filled with water two metres deep before being pumped out. He acknowledged he was having a hard time keeping up with thanking everyone.
“People just kept showing up and showing up,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Everybody seems to be telling their friends. So somebody knows somebody who’s got a truck, somebody with a shovel. It’s exponential.”
Shane Lynen wasn’t affected by the flooding in Bowness but Sunday morning, he and his children Josh, Connor and Emily picked up their shovels and went to help where they could.
“It’s just a lot of pushing around mud,” said Mr. Lynen. “We’re going to shovel out some garages and see if we can help them clean up a little bit.”
As a means of demonstrating the city’s resolve, officials are intent on staging the 101st annual Calgary Stampede, which is set to open July 5. Stampede Park, where the rodeo, chuckwagon races and evening stage show are held, is still flooded but not as badly as before. Stampede officials Tweeted Sunday: “Crews have been working through the night and will continue working until #Stampede 101.”
“That’s a move-in that’s nine days from now,” said Mr. King. “That may seem ludicrously ambitious but this is Calgary. We’re going to try and turn heaven and earth.”
There is no other way in a city bowed but unbeaten.
With a report from Kelly Cryderman