I am a proud Canadian. I’m a girl who embraces words like “Sorry” and “Eh“. I love my Timmies double double, weekends camping, a good hockey game and bbq’ing steak in 3 feet of snow. We are the destination for mountain and ocean adventure, dog sledding and trail conquering, wine tasting and lake tubing. We have sea views, cityscapes and wide open spaces. We are white collars, blue collars and dog collars. We are passionate, respectful and fun loving people and thanks to the fact the we truly embrace diversity, we have history, art, music and food that reflect cultures from around the world.
But do you know what is truly at the heart of being a Canadian? It’s the unrelenting support for our fellow Canucks. In light of the increasingly dangerous, and still expanding #YMMFire just several hours north of where I live, this has never been better demonstrated. Fort McMurray, is an economic hub not only for Alberta, but for Canada. It’s the heart of oil country, and climate change fanatics are welcome to keep reading at a courteous distance. It is a city that employs thousands, and it is common place for families to to say a tearful goodbye as a spouse or parent heads to “Ft Mac” for a two or three week shift. It’s an economic reality in our country, so many loved ones separated by miles in order to make a living, the distance a necessary heartache in order to put food on the table and provide life in an increasingly expensive world. And now many of these hard working people are facing the reality that the roof under which they worked or raised their family no long exists.
1,560: Square kilometers that have burned so far. 88,000: Displaced evacuees. On May 3rd, in an alarmingly quick turn of events, a massive fire ravaged an entire city. First, you must understand the logistics of Fort McMurray to fully comprehend. Towns in Alberta are widespread and somewhat isolated, and in Fort McMurray, there are two major roads: One road north, one road south….and the highway south at a dangerous point, became closed. Horrifying images fit only for a movie scene; miles of vehicles escaping a city under complete evacuation, passing thru walls of fire reaching towards the sky, every inch surrounding terrified families completely engulfed. Families unable to gather photo albums and clothing, let alone pets or food or even gas. Stories and photos of hundreds of vehicles, terrified passengers stranded along the highway as fuel ran out.
So what is it that overshadows all of this terror and destruction? That’s simple.
88,000 people fled with just the clothes on their backs, but they were heading to open arms of complete strangers. Within moments of the evacuation, support began and #AlbertaStrong rang load and clear. Alberta citizens emptied shelves of water and food, and not a gas can sat empty as residents rallied and filled truck boxes and trunks to head to those in need. Folks with hardly a penny themselves found ways to purchase emergency supplies, driving hours north towards the chaos, to set up in parking lots to hand out supplies and food, the “Jerry-Can Angels” driving the highways to put gas into the tanks of fellow Albertans. Offers of meals, holiday trailers, acres to park on and empty beds to lay weary heads have poured in by the thousands.
Major companies like Labatt, with a brewery here in Edmonton, mobilized to produce 200,000 cans of drinking water. Westjet, a much loved Canadian airline supplied rescue planes, providing free flights to Edmonton and Calgary, as it helped evacuate not just the hospital, but thousands stranded North of the fire….including rescued pets who got to ride first class with passengers.
Lists of businesses offering free meals, free haircuts, gift cards for necessary toiletries, space to set up and reconnect to a still working world become increasingly longer. Community pools and recreation centres providing free swimming and fun so that families can enjoy a few moments of laughter amid the tears of loss and confusion. Financial institutions and Vehicle Companies offering to defer payments while residents get their lives in order. The YEG Mayor flipping pancakes downtown and the sweet little faces with the lemonade stand set up, or the little girl offering up her allowance, all in the name of strangers in need.
To the people who put their lives on the line, the ones who helped evacuate an entire city, the ones who are exhausted, yet refuse to give up in fighting to save what they can. As they say, “Not all superheroes wear capes”, we heart you.
To the families of the two lives lost in the crash during evacuation, our hearts are beyond heavy for your loss, and we send you love, strength and prayers.
To Lisa Hilsenteger, the angel of a principal who loaded the kids on the school bus in order to escape and be reunited with their families, every parent hearts you.
To those who saved and have housed the lives of so many animals. We heart you.
To the countless volunteers driving, delivering, purchasing, sorting….so many they had to request no one else show up….we heart you.
To the residents of Fort Mac. We are here, and we aren’t going anywhere soon.
And the rest of our country following suit, filling massive trailers with supplies headedfor Alberta, those donating millions to the RedCross, sending social media messages of love, prayer and support for their fellow countrymen. THIS is what it is to be Canadian. THIS is the real reason you need to visit our country, as you will never encounter a population of people as warm hearted or embracing of others.
THIS is #AlbertaStrong.
If you would like to help, you can donate to the Canadian Red Cross HERE.
Love and prayers,