As I lay here in my home in south Calgary I consider myself lucky and grateful. My home is completely dry, just like my home in Winnipeg back in the Flood of the Century of 1997. Although I was left unscathed I can still feel the confusion, frustration, and shock.
In 1997 Winnipeggers were expecting the Red River to rise a hair. Then on April 5, a three-day blizzard hit the city, and surrounding communities and all hell broke loose. Just like a big rainstorm hit us and caused chaos, the snowstorm in 1997 brought us rising waters, and destroyed communities. The entire city was in a panic. Winnipeggers in areas like St. Norbert, and St. Vital rushed out of their homes as their front yards became lakes. They knew the waters would continue to rise. They looked back and shuddered at the thought of what their homes would look like when the waters subsided. Some lived in the homes they grew up in. Some raised their families in those homes, and some moved in to their beautiful home in hopes they would raise their children inside those walls. All of that was washed away.
What happened in Winnipeg is happening right now in Calgary. People are scared, politicians are trying to calm us, and journalists are telling the stories of heartache and perseverance. What I saw in Winnipeg is what I am seeing now, a community is coming together.
What I remember about the flood of 1997 is a city, and a province coming together. School kids dropped their text books and left their classrooms to help swing sand bags. I was one of them. Even though my thirteen year old self could barely catch a flying bag full of sand, I did not complain. The area was quiet except for the sound of the bag hitting everyone's arms. We paused our lives to do just a little bit in hopes of positively affecting the lives of people whose homes were now Atlantis.
The national news media was fixated on our small city, just like they were a year before when our Jets left for Phoenix. The loss of our NHL team was heartbreaking, and so was the flood, but we were resilient and stoic. Our city didn't die when the Jets packed their bags and left town, and no flood, no matter how big and destructive was going to destroy our lives.
Look at any catastrophic event and what stands out in all of them is how the city becomes one. Calgary is full of people with religious, cultural, and political differences, but all of that shouldn't matter, and hasn't mattered. The fact that people are allowing displaced strangers into their homes makes the biggest cynic warm up inside their distrusting souls.
Watching people with boats and trucks helping their neighbours to safety is what is important in this story. The story isn't about rising waters and destroyed homes. The story is about how people come together collectively, to help the most vulnerable and distressed.
Manitoba recovered, the river went back to its normal state, and the towns that washed away pulled up their sleeves and got to work, rebuilding the communities they loved. It was a tough experience to go through, but it didn't break the spirit of "Friendly Manitoba," and it won't break the spirit of those who lost their homes in High River, or those whose houses flooded in Bowness. What defines a city, and what defines people is how they face tragedy and chaos. Alberta is not about cowboys and oil, it is about a resilient community that comes together in times of discomfort and holds together, bending, not breaking.