We drove to Calgary on Friday, and as we headed east on Tongue Creek Road to the north side of High River there was a spot where traffic was instructed to slow to 50 km/h. On the north side of the road was a cluster of heavy-duty equipment beside a large number of Atco-type portable housing units. Oil patch camp, I assumed, as there has been lots of new exploration going on in the area not so far from where the oil boom started in 1914 when the Dingman Discovery Well began spewing natural gas in Turner Valley.
Then we turned north on Highway 2A, near the often malodorous Cargill beef processing plant, and there was another similar construction site. It was only then that I realized that that these were temporary communities meant for those who have been displaced by the floods.
Our younger son, Ryan, is an RCMP constable and he had told us earlier that the devastation in High River had to be seen to truly appreciate it. A member of a federal drug, commercial crime and security detachment in Calgary, he had been seconded to High River immediately after floodwaters did their dirty deed. He did general duty work, responding to calls and patrolling the area. Whenever he saw people in their front yards, he stopped to chat, asking how things were. The stories, he said, were heartbreaking.
That night we drove toward downtown Calgary, along Fourth Street Southwest. Ryan and his wife, Lynita, took turns pointing out businesses that are temporary or permanently closed due to water damage. On the way, we had passed the Stampede grounds, where the Saddledome is a massive construction project once again, as the entire events level is being rebuilt in haste as the NHL season looms.
Often, on a weekend, we pack up the grandchildren and head to the Calgary Zoo, where they have season passes. Not this time, though. The zoo is closed until at least September.
It’s almost impossible to comprehend the damage created by the floods, and the personal tales of woe that accompany it. We have friends who spent two weeks just ripping their basement apart. Their home in Bowness had to be evacuated before they could even rescue their photo albums. Friends of Lynita, who recently purchased a dream home in Mission, live with the roar of industrial fans and dehumidifiers. The female half of the couple has had to seek counselling, so bad are the nightmares that involve water rushing in and threatening her life and those of her family.
In the early aftermath of the heavy rains and rivers swollen beyond capacity, Ryan provided security for Prime Minister Harper’s visit to survey the devastation. Harper was, by all reports, overwhelmed with what he saw. And yet he, Stephen the Silent, hasn’t had much to say this summer, while tens of thousands of Albertans scramble to put their lives back together.
Perhaps the reason for his silence is that Harper doesn’t want to own up to the simple fact that climate change is contributing to the dramatic weather events that seem to become more common with each passing month. That might involve having to get all scientificky about the state of the climate and environment, and if there’s one thing this guy has no use for, it’s science. Unless it’s being used to develop yet another way to exploit resources and generate wealth for, well, you get the picture.
Tragedy brings out the best in most and the worst in some and, fortunately, the good stories have far outweighed the bad. Thousands descended on the Stampede grounds to help clean up the muck so that the Greatest Show on Earth could go on, as the ads promised, come “Hell or high water”. About 4,500 Calgarians were bused to High River to help residents haul debris and tear out walls and insulation from soon-to-be moulding basements. A host of volunteers flocked to Prince’s Island last week to help ready the area for the annual folk music festival. Small business owners with pumps offered their services free of charge to remove water from basements in Calgary.
The fly-by-nighters are no doubt busy these days, providing inferior services and running off before jobs are complete and deposits are spent. But they are always around, scheming and scamming. Luckily, the good stories predominate. That’s a good thing, because 100-year weather events look like they are becoming the new normal.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.