Alison Redford says she thought long and hard about whether to go forward with the Premier’s Stampede breakfast this year, realizing the volunteers needed for the pancakes-and-sausage tradition could be used in communities still mopping up after the worst flood in Alberta’s history.
But like the Calgary Stampede organizers who decided to push ahead with the 10-day rodeo and midway despite the floods that hit the southern part of the province last month, the Alberta Premier said she decided it was important for people “to connect with friends and neighbours and strangers, and to think about why we care about each other and who we are.”
Instead of holding the annual breakfast at its usual location in downtown Calgary, Ms. Redford took Sunday’s event south down the highway to Aldersyde, a tiny hamlet between the city and the flood-devastated town of High River.
The Premier heard about lost homes and lost cats as many of those uprooted by the town’s Highwood River flood came to eat, listen to marching-band music and sit in the sun. On stage, Ms. Redford’s 11-year-old daughter, Sarah, helped auction off autographed aprons to raise funds for High River relief efforts.
While 90 per cent of High River’s 13,000 residents have been allowed to return to home – at the very least to collect possessions – pumps are still running to clear stagnant water pools more than 17 days after the flood. Slowly, businesses are also beginning to return.
“What we need going forward is people from Calgary and the surrounding area coming to High River and supporting these businesses so they can keep going,” said Don Carlson, owner of Carlson’s on MacLeod – a cappuccino and wine bar in a historic High River building – who was eating at the breakfast.
“I have insurance, but it won’t cover me,” Mr. Carlson said. “But I’m still good. I’m still good. We’re okay. We’re going to be just fine. Our neighbours are not going to be okay.”
The breakfast was also the first meeting between the Alberta Premier and federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who made an unexpected appearance at the open-to-all event. Mr. Trudeau used the opportunity to reach out to Alberta Tories, who continue to keep the word “Progressive” in their official party name – unlike the federal Conservatives.
“There’s a lot of Progressive Conservatives who don’t feel at home in the approach that Stephen Harper’s right-wing, extreme right-wing, Conservatives are taking,” Mr. Trudeau said when reporters asked about his presence at the Redford breakfast.
Mr. Trudeau attended at least three Stampede breakfasts on Sunday, and was set to volunteer with the flood cleanup in the afternoon. Media were not invited.
“I’m looking forward to being able to get my boots dirty and roll up my sleeves,” he said.
While Aldersyde has little more than a truck stop in the way of services, a nearby field will, in the days ahead, become the temporary home for as many as 1,000 displaced High River residents, many of whom are now in university residences or staying with friends or family.
On Sunday, High River mayor Emile Blokland said the Aldersyde site will become a community of “upscale trailers.”
“We’re even building playgrounds,” Mr. Blokland said. “We want to make people comfortable. We’ve already moved them a couple times, and we want to make sure we do it right for them.”