I’m supposed to be writing a blog this week about some of the out-of-town speakers we already have lined up to attend our daylong Best of Calgary “Supposium.”
I’m supposed to be telling you about the format for our evening Best of Calgary “Showcase and ‘Best of’ Bash.”
That’s what I’m supposed to do.
What I’m going to do is write about Fort McMurray.
I’ve never been to Fort McMurray, but I know many Calgarians who have. I know that it’s the arrival and departure point for visitors and workers to and from the various oil sands operations just north of the city. And I know that it’s the de-facto gathering place for homesick Maritimers who have been coming to northern Alberta for many years for work, when there was none back home.
I also know that Fort McMurray faced more than its fair share of growing pains a few years ago when oil sands workers arrived by the thousands to a city without the infrastructure to accommodate the growth; pushing housing prices through the roof, faster than any other urban centre in the province. And I also know that in the last couple of years, Fort McMurray has been one of the hardest hit areas in Alberta economically, since oil prices started their precipitous drop.
Today, none of that matters. House prices don’t matter when more than 2,000 homes have already gone up in flames. Infrastructure doesn’t matter when all 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray and area have been evacuated. And, in spite of the odd comment from the certifiably crazy demographic on Twitter, it certainly doesn’t matter that this unmitigated disaster has affected a city that is the unofficial home to the oil sands.
While the floods of 2013 will never be forgotten in Calgary, I would argue that when the history books are written, the Fort McMurray fires of 2016 will never be forgotten in this province.
Yes, it’s a miracle that to date no lives have been lost. And it’s even more of a miracle that there have been no serious injuries.
That said, 80,000 Albertans have been displaced in the last 72 hours. Eighty thousand.
Eighty thousand people who are quickly coming to the realization that they will very likely have no hometown to go back to. Imagine that. No home to go to. No job to go to. No school to attend. Nothing.
There’s a very good chance that Fort McMurray will rebuild once the flames have burned out. This is Alberta, after all, and that’s what we do. But there’s also a good chance that a number of people may not return. Many might decide to rebuild their lives in places like Edmonton or Calgary, or they may decide to leave the province altogether.
Hopefully that won’t be the case. Hopefully Fort McMurray will rise again. Hopefully people will move back and businesses will reopen. Hopefully – maybe – there will even be a construction boom that will help lead the province out of the economic doldrums it presently finds itself in. Hopefully.
When we first came up with the idea for Best of Calgary, one of our main reasons for doing so was to celebrate our city and remind ourselves of all the things that make this a great place to live, even during times of economic hardship.
And while the focus of our efforts have been on the businesses and organizations that rose to the top of our surveys, it’s during natural disasters such as this that the people of our city, and our province, really shine. Homes have been opened to strangers. Food has been shipped north. Donations have been rolling in to the Red Cross.
We will be celebrating the best of our city on June 29th. And hopefully next week I’ll be able to tell you more about how we’re going to do that. But until then, please:
Donate $5: Text REDCROSS to 30333
Send larger donations to the Red Cross, see here for details.
Send supplies to the Fort Mac Donations Facebook page.