By Patricia Gordon
The summer of 2013 is a summer that will always be etched in my memory, not because we actually had a summer in Calgary, but rather because of the great floods. I say “great” because hopefully the flooding and its path of destruction is now one for the history books and never to be repeated.
Prior to this summer, I never thought I would ever get used to the city. Too me, Calgary was all about “big business.” I missed the days when I knew the names of my neighbours, and when a friendly “hello” became a standard greeting from a passerby. I had become disillusioned with politics, and while I voted for Mayor Nenshi in the last municipal election, he was just that - another mayor. However, the summer of 2013 changed me profoundly and installed a new appreciation for our municipal government, big business, Calgarians, and even nature itself.
June 20th had started out like any other work day; the afternoon, though, was abuzz with office chatter after a company e-mail alert dispatched stated the City
of Calgary had issued a warning to
residents within several communities advising them to evacuate. Not residing near the Bow or Elbow rivers, and possibly like so many skeptical Calgarians that afternoon, I naively thought the City was simply over-reacting. Frustrated by the daily traffic congestion I had already decided earlier that day I would take a different route home where I could at least enjoy the scenery. The bus travelled across the 10th street bridge, a major bridge crossing over the Bow River. As the bus drove across the bridge I looked to my right and was stunned by both what I saw and what I couldn’t see. Oh my God! I exclaimed. Suddenly, I was aware my innocent cry had caught the attention of several passengers on the left side of the bus, who then rose from their seats staring at the sights before them; some passengers began grabbing their phones to take photos or shoot a video. I returned my focus towards the river. I looked for the bike paths but realised they were submerged. I saw a tree tearing down the river, and then there was another one. From a distance it seemed the raging river was not too far below the underbelly of the Peace Bridge. This, indeed, was a menacing sight. Still, exhausted by a long day, that evening I did not dwell further on the sights seen earlier.
The next day I tuned on the TV to watch the local news; it seemed all hell had broken loose as many Calgarians awoke to their first reality check. Not only were we confronted with the sights of devastation in High River and Canmore, for example, but also communities in Calgary were actually being flooded. Beautiful communities I had travelled through and never given their proximity to the river a second thought in terms of danger. How was it possible the downtown library and the City Hall were flooded, I pondered? That day I found myself mesmerized watching the live news updates as the severity of the devastation began to unfold. As the day progressed, though, I also felt I was witnessing something unique. I was in awe of how quickly our municipal government, under the leadership of the Mayor, assembled a well-coordinated response team to manage what would become a disaster experienced like no other in this city. I was struck by Mayor Nenshi and Fire Chief Bruce Burrell’s tell-it-like it is approach to the crisis. I was impressed that day, and those that followed, by how willing they were to share information with the public. How many times have we watched other press conferences only to be told, “I don’t have an answer to that question,” or “I’m not at liberty to share that information,” thus leaving viewers wondering why a press conference was even called. What Isaw then was something I had not seen in awhile - great leadership. It became clear the City wasn’t going to become impotent. Anarchy wasn’t going to erupt. The Nenshi-Burrell duo were simply not going to let that happen.