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After the flood

Notes from a city under water

By Carolyn Pogue

The Sunday following the Alberta flood evacuations, our minister at Hillhurst United in Calgary preached about the biblical flood. He reminded us that the first thing Noah did after the ark landed was build an altar and give thanks. I’ll say one thing about floods: they sure focus the mind.

The first night, I saw the Bow River pushing against the windows of a friend’s home. The next week, I was gripped by television images of the railway cars hanging dangerously over a broken bridge. The possibility that they would leak their poisons into the pure mountain water and send it racing to Saskatchewan and Manitoba brought me to tears. Although I’ve obeyed Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s repeated pleas to stay away from riverbanks, each day I have walked or cycled to a safe distance to watch and pray. I can’t help it.

On Canada Day (11 days in) my husband, Bill, and I ventured downtown for the first time. Mostly, it appeared remarkably normal. We took in the powwow at Olympic Plaza, then cycled through Chinatown, closer to the Bow. There, some were still pumping water. Silt still layered several streets. The magnificent Chinese Cultural Centre, like several other buildings, remained closed. We then cycled along our transformed river, past Prince’s Island Park. This is where musicians, artists and entertainers usually help us celebrate Canada Day or the Calgary Folk Festival. This year, it was chain saw melodies as broken trees, silt and debris were removed from the shorelines. Fifty Canada geese swam in the inlet; there was not a single gosling among them.

Morley community school gym, Alberta. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Morley community school gym, Alberta. Photo by Carolyn Pogue

Events that had been planned for this park were moved to another. Like all Canada Day venues, it was packed. I wondered how many had just walked out of silt-filled basements and said, “Enough! Time to celebrate!”

On Tuesday, Bill and I drove to Morley, a nearby First Nations reserve hard hit by the flood. There, like other nearby reserves, roads and bridges were washed out and people were isolated. Wells and cisterns were ruined. We had gathered baby supplies, groceries and cleaning supplies from Hillhurst United and the Calgary Women in Black peace group. The emergency headquarters is in the beautiful high school. There, small children play, people of all ages sort donations, organize and direct volunteers. We met a cheerful Mike Gord from Kapuskasing, Ont., one of about 300 Red Cross volunteers from across Canada who have come to help.

Last week, a feature article in Alberta Views magazine arrived in our mailbox. In “Safeguarding the Source,” Kevin Van Tighem warns that we must better care for the headwaters of rivers. Providentially written and published prior to the big flood, the story covers the effects of forestry practices, damming, clear-cutting, off-road vehicles and more. “Downstream water-users complain of increasingly intense spring floods and more frequent summer droughts,” Van Tighem writes. “[These are] signs of a sick watershed.”

I see this flood, like the last Calgary flood, as a warning. In the biblical story, humans had disobeyed God’s laws. In today’s story, we have done the same thing. Call them the laws of Nature if you prefer, but I hope that we take heed.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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