Cougar Creek in Canmore looked wild and exciting on the evening of Wednesday, June 19. My partner Toby and I were staying with Toby’s brother whose house backs directly on to the creek, and we went for a stroll before bed. The fire department was starting to put up caution tape, and the bank was abuzz with walkers and joggers. Almost everyone wielded a camera.
By 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, the story had entirely changed. As the fire department pounded on doors up and down the street, we heard our names.
“Toby! Jenny! We’ve got to get out.”
The creek had already galloped half the distance from the former riverbed to the backyard. The path we had walked the previous night was gone.
I pulled on my clothes, grabbed a bag and paused at the back door before leaving. In the space of two minutes, three enormous trees cracked and fell into the churn. Toby and I headed west to Banff. We didn’t make it halfway down the block before I pulled over and walked back in the pouring rain.
“The bass,” I called out. (Toby plays a beautiful upright bass that we had abandoned in the house.) We ran back inside and got it.
I couldn’t resist pulling over to look at the hoopla by the creek before leaving the neighbourhood all together. Fire trucks, police, ambulance and more people taking videos destined for YouTube fame.
We rolled through the on ramp to Highway One with water rising on all sides; the road would be closed within the hour. All day, we watched on social media as the raging chocolate milk of Cougar Creek undermined one house after another. Would the family house go with it?
Meanwhile, the Bow River at Banff was rising more methodically. We watched it crawl towards us as Thursday wore on. At 5:30 Friday morning, we woke to the mewling of a half-hearted fire alarm at my place, The Rocky Mountain Co-op, built smack dab in the middle of the flood plain.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said to Toby.
From my living room window we watched a coyote swim across the soccer field, then packed another bag – this time with lots of groceries – and headed up to The Banff Centre.
By mid-morning Friday, the centre was preparing rooms for 87 evacuees from the co-op and extending complimentary meals to all of us. (My disaster experience has been full of croissants, puff pastry, tortiere and cheesecake.) Toby and I went back to the flood zone to explore, cheer on the sandbaggers and eventually borrow a couple of canoes we found tied to some trees by the side of the road. We paddled around the back of the housing co-op, next to the soccer field and across from the stables. The canoes were to get workers out to a group of stranded horses.
We got word that afternoon that the family house, miraculously, was still standing; the destruction began just four doors up the street.
Saturday brought a power outage that plunged us into candlelight and cell phone glow. Sunday the power came back and the phones went down, but by today, Monday, most things, for us, are back to normal.
Toby made it back to Canmore and his family, and everyone who is able continues with relief efforts across the province. Cities are being swallowed whole.
Thanks to those who kept a cool head and pitched in to make the best of a bad situation. For those who helped the evacuees at The Banff Centre, you made our emergency seem more like a holiday. Thank you.
Photo credits top to bottom: Jennifer Kingsley, Jennifer Kingsley, Parks Canada, Global TV