One year after the day the floods struck Calgary, June 21 has been declared Neighbour Day by Mayor Nenshi. It is a day to celebrate and get to know your neighbours. For those flood stricken neighborhoods, a day to thank the volunteers properly. I chose to go to the Bowness Boots and Hearts celebration because I spent two full days volunteering there. I was also invited to a party by my coworker, who was away in Europe while volunteers cleaned out his basement.
I got off the bus, near where it used to be Mary’s corner store. The irony is that, the store is now torn down and a new house is going up next to it. But the lot for the store sits empty. I headed towards Bow Crescent where it was ground zero for the flood in that community. Streets were blocked off and a private security guard was manning each blockade. A little extreme perhaps, for the mood of the day? Compare that to police manning blockades a year ago and first responders everywhere.
I walked a few blocks on the crescent, just to take in the festivities. Every house had signage, of which many were large bristol board hearts, with messages of thanks and positivity on them. Nearly every second house had free food on the table for passers by. Ironically, there was a similar situation last year. There were signs on the properties, indicating no power, help needed, or thanking volunteers. The food stands then were run by the volunteers. The roads were closed then.
I kept all the addresses I helped out at, meaning to get to each of them. I only got to one, and the homeowner remembered me! It was a surreal moment. I signed her sign that she hung on her garage door. She is doing well, but has not rebuilt her basement.
I didn’t get as far as the stage, or the park set up for family fun day. I did stop by on Bowwater Crescent to talk to a gentleman with signs on his lawn handing out ice cream. I took up on his offer of an ice cold treat and listened to his story. This truly what today is all about, recalling the stories of last year and seeing how people have moved on with their lives. And thanking the volunteers.
I finally arrived at my coworkers house. There were already a few people there, all of whom I work with. It was a small gathering, but there was plenty of food. Plenty of stories and friendship. This is what I came for.
Calgary, yet again you have impressed me. I am a proud to be a citizen of this fine city.
I had set out with the intention of looking for some more manual labour type work today. But I think this past week and the heat has caught up to me. So I decided to check out Stanley Park. I packed my cooler full of popsicles, mandarin oranges and grapes. It was a hot day out there, 34C to be exact.
On the way there, I walked by a pedestrian bridge that used to go over the Elbow. I remember how rickety it was. I guess it needed to be replaced anyway.
The community is still quite a mess. Generators were going and there were a lot of contractors coming and going. Didn’t see as many people out though. Just the homeowners and contractors. Maybe volunteers were back to work? Once the dumpsters are out of the way, the streets could use a sweep.
I walked by a park and sat at a picnic table. The ground still gave a little, even though we haven’t had rain in a week. The grass was mud covered, but still enough to stick to my sandals.
Highlights of my visit:
I offered a homeowner a snack, which she gratefully accepted. I then asked if she would like to take some for her work crew. Her response was, “They’re paid workers”. I said, “That’s ok, I feed everybody.”
I met a Postie delivering the mail and he didn’t look like he had any water with him in the sweltering sun. He was very happy to get some grapes.
The Farm Girls truck was parked in the community and offering free food. I think the owner’s house was condemned but they are nice enough to keep on feeding volunteers.
It’ s hot out today. 28C at COP and hotter on the street. What could be better than freezies? I took the ctrain and my bike down to Mission/Rideau Park today. I saw a few volunteers with their buggies and coolers handing out food and drink. But not in the numbers that were on Bow Crescent. Downtown was bustling with people celebrating Canada Day. I think everyone took Mayor Nenshi seriously when he said to take the day off.
I also saw what I thought were houses under construction… but instead thought that maybe everything was ripped down to the studs.
Highlights for today:
Handing out freezies indiscriminately to the parking cop controlling traffic, city inspection workers and anyone walking down the street. I think the construction workers were the most appreciative.
Seeing every house with a full dumpster on the street. No street parking here.
Stopping by a couple girls armed with super soakers keeping watch on my street. They said “You’re lucky.” I said, “spray me!” And they did.
Yesterday, I headed back to Bowness to help along with a few friends. Bow Crescent, I can’t wait it see it when it’s back to normal. The house I was working at, already had the basement gutted. The guys were hauling stuff out of the garage and cleaning it. The gals were cleaning and disinfecting inside the house.
I still can’t get over how many people dropped by the house and offered us food!
That part of Bow Crescent is very dusty as the street was gravel before the flood. But the street sweeper came by! And the garbage trucks came by multiple times. Also a house a few doors down is probably going to be condemned.
Calgary, thank you for showing your community spirit again. I do hope it will stick around, long after the last cleanup is done.
Well Calgary, you have impressed me again. I’ve just finished the two days of the best volunteer experiences in my lifetime.
This morning, my new friend Penny picked me up and we headed back to Bowness. We got our assignment at the Sportsplex and headed to the address. The homeowner was not around so we went down the street in search of opportunity. We found Joanne, who was emptying her basement. She had a lot of help already, but appreciated the extra hands. I finally got the chance to get dirty! I got to muck a basement. There was a few inches of water down there. The water went past the ceiling and into the first floor. As a result, the drywall came off really easily, but was heavy due to being waterlogged. We shoved the mess out the basement window. It was quite the experience.
I returned home with time enough to grab a snack. Emily left a message saying she needed help and equipment in Sunnyside. I packed up a shovel, crowbar, garbage bags and wheelbarrow. We were cleaning the basement of a friend’s condo building that was the victim of a sewer backup. It came halfway up the wall. This was harder to deal with than the previous assignment. The bottom part of the drywall came off easy, but the top foot was dry and needed to be scored and ripped off. There were no windows, so everything had to be hauled up the stairs. They needed a generator to power the lights. Hard manual labour, but I quite enjoyed it.
The highlights for today:
Meeting one very grateful homeowner in Bowness
Removing the ceiling of the basement and having water pour out
Getting covered with mud, and…
Getting caught on camera by Shaw while visiting their water station
Meanwhile in Sunnyside…
A family walked by offering us free chili and peanut butter and jam sandwiches
A lady pulled up in her SUV and offered us sandwiches, juice, fruit, carrots and snacks
Shaw person walked by offering us free flashlights
People who I just met treating me like family
Finishing the afternoon event with a beer in hand on the sidewalk. Bylaws drove by. CPS drove by, rolled down the window and chatted. Beer drinking continued.
Back to work tomorrow! If I wasn’t working, I would volunteer again.
I’ll admit I didn’t know what I was getting into when I showed up at McMahon Stadium this morning. One thing, I knew it would be an adventure. I baked some carrot muffins last night and thawed some GF banana bread from the freezer and took it with me. It took some time to organize; we all had to fill out an information sheet (waiver). We lined up, got our forms signed and waited to board the buses. They couldn’t accommodate all the people on the buses so they had us split into groups of 100 and given an address. My destination was Bowness. I met a random group of people and we piled into a vehicle for the drive there.
When we got there it was a bit of chaos. Those in charge were not expecting 100 volunteers that were not residents of the community to show up. But people spoke up and asked for what they needed.
10 people to help the military with administrative duties until 10pm
Helping a homeowner at xxx address to clean up
Helping resettle evacuated residents of a seniors home
The local Sportsplex was set up as a central command centre. There was a place to register volunteers, an area for those who need help to pick up supplies. And a ton of donations. Rona brought in a ton of pails and garbage cans. I helped offload donated clothing and rags that a local chiropractic office had collected.
Our first assignment of the day was to help a homeowner cleanup. We entered the red zone. The red zone is an area where it has not been cleared for the evacuees to return home. Traffic into the affected areas is controlled by police. There is no power, gas, and possibly water. Nevertheless, in areas where the water had cleared, homeowners returned to start the cleanup. As we drove to the affected area, I could not help but notice all the drywall, furniture and personal effects on people’s front lawns. We passed a house with “no power, no gas” and a cat sitting in the window. The roads were either muddy or dusty. We passed by a building that housed some 911 equipment. It was surrounded by sandbags and booms. When we arrived, we were put to work cleaning with bleach and drying items just moved out of the basement. The guys were helping with the heavy lifting of the appliances out of the basement. Then they gutted and removed the drywall.
After that assignment, our motley crew went in search of more work. Everyone we passed by seemed to have all the help they needed. So we went back to the Sportsplex to help out.
Our next assignment came when one of our group helped a lady who was shell shocked and not sure of the help she needed. So six of us went over to her house and helped her clear out the garage. There was a lot of stuff in there, most of it was mud soaked and we took it out. She really struggled with throwing out her possessions.
Calgarians are exceptional. In all my years of volunteering, I have not seen a grassroots movement this large. Let me list some of the high points:
2500 volunteers showed up at McMahon Stadium for their assignments (they were planning to sign up 600)
Mayor Nenshi was there, firing up the crowd and thanking everyone for their help
One person stood up organized a random group of people. We counted to 100 as a group so we could be given an address to go to
Don’t be a Nenshi noun! (Don’t be an idiot)
How can I help? Was the motto for the day.
I met a guy from England that has been in Calgary for 3 weeks who volunteered. He started a job at the UofC. I told him this isn’t what you would normally expect in town.
I made at least 5-6 new friends today. One of them is picking me up tomorrow to go back to Bowness
Shaw set up a station to hand out food and snacks for the volunteers on a street in Bowness
A homeowner who was flooded, set up a volunteer registration and food station on her front lawn
Food trucks were handing out free food at McMahon.
The volunteer station on Bow Crescent was happy to receive the carrot muffins and GF banana bread
The organizers made sure the volunteers were well fed and watered in the community
A shout out to my new friends, Hugh, Rick, Faye, Penny, Pheobe and Sandy
The lack of formal organization compared to the amount of stuff that got done was truly amazing. There is a lot of humanity and compassion in Calgary, that shows up in situations like this. People just took the initiative. So many donations, in the way of supplies and food for the volunteers.One person in our group asked how the homeowner was feeling, and paused to listen. Some homeowners were grateful for the number of volunteers that spontaneously showed up.
You too can help. Visit the page yychelps.ca, check out calgary.ca for volunteers ops, find friends that have just returned home and see if they need help, or show up at one of the community muster stations. As for me, I will be headed back to Bowness tomorrow morning. Then back to work on Wednesday. I’m proud to be a resident of this fine city.