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The Globe and Mail

Calgary cleans up in time for annual folk music festival

The Calgary Folk Music Festival will be held with two fewer stages.

Doug Callow

Five weeks ago, the banks of the Bow River burst and Calgary's Prince's Island was under water. The flood waters receded to reveal severe damage, with huge trees deposited around the island, tonnes of silt, benches and picnic tables scattered everywhere, and debris that had obviously come from other parts of the city: wheelbarrows; patio furniture; even a dog house. Further, the causeway, which is the primary vehicle access to the island, was completely wiped out.

"It was pretty eye-opening seeing how much Mother Nature can devastate an area," Calgary-based musician Lucas Chaisson says. "It looked like it had been torn apart."

Chaisson is a long-time volunteer at the Calgary Folk Music Festival and is playing the festival for the first time this year.

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But with the festival slated for Prince's Island beginning July 25, there were obviously concerns over whether it would be possible to get the place cleaned up on time.

"After our initial assessment, when we were looking at an island that had essentially been destroyed and no connection to that island, it wasn't looking likely," says Greg Stewart, project manager for City of Calgary Parks, who is leading the flood recovery efforts for Prince's Island.

However, the island was deemed a top priority for clean-up, once safety assessments, social impact, economic impact and environmental impact were factored in – as was the folk festival's can-do (and must-do) attitude.

"I think I was cautiously optimistic and maybe a little naïve," festival artistic director Kerry Clarke says. "But you have to have hope. And I think we had the benefit of time. Certainly after the first time we met with the city when we saw how hard they were working to try and make it happen and they had a plan, that gave us some optimism."

An all-out effort was waged, with city workers, sub-contractors and volunteers.

The city did the heavy lifting – first rebuilding that causeway, then working to clear the debris on the island.

Volunteers did their part too. About 250 people took part in a weekend clean-up of the island, doing the work that couldn't be done by vehicles – getting close to trees, raking, and shovelling silt into wheelbarrows.

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Among the volunteers were some folk festival musicians, including Chaisson.

"I felt like as a local artist it was the least I could do to give back and make sure that it still has a chance to happen this year," Chaisson said Wednesday during a break from rehearsing with his band.

The show will go on, but the schedule has had to be altered as a result of the flooding's impact on the island, with two stages lost. Programming from one of the stages has been moved to the nearby Eau Claire Market. Other acts have moved to the Twilight Stage, which will see an increased schedule.

But because of the loss of the stages, a few shows had to be cancelled – among them: Chaisson's. While he loses his stand-alone concert, he will still take part in the collaborative sessions so key to the festival experience, and will also do a set for the volunteers in the hospitality tent.

Work on the island will continue until the gates open on Thursday – with Alabama Shakes headlining opening night.

This weekend, Stewart will trade his hard hat for a festival pass. For a city that's had to hold on for weeks now, he expects it will be quite an event.

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"I think the city has been through a lot and everyone has come together," he says. "And I think this just gives the city a reason to celebrate; celebrate all that we've accomplished as a whole."

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