Welcome to Canmore: Experiencing the Force of Nature and Enduring the Flood

Peter saw the first of the mud water flowing down the lower driveway.  That should have been alarm enough.  Then we saw rapids running through the yard of a house down the street.  We looked down from our fifth floor condo unit and wondered where could all that water coming from.  Minutes later the light flow of mud colored water from the P1 upper parkade level became a torrent.  I watched the man across the street move with his shovel, unplugging gutters, trying in vain to divert this deluge of water moving directly into his home.

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It was at that time we started to get dressed, thinking we would go down and help him as best we could.  Little did we know we’d have to help ourselves first.


Peter went down the stairs like we always do.  Only this time is wasn’t because of our habit of using the elevator only when we have gear to bring up or down.  He didn’t know what was waiting below.  When he saw water coming out of the 1st floor proper, which is actually the 3rd floor of the deluxe condo buildings, he knew we had a situation on our hands.


I always thought if in a disaster situation, there’s only one person on earth I’d want to be with: Peter.  Not just because he’s my husband.  Peter is like Survivor Man, only without the show and far more skill.  He’s the calmest person in the most intense of situations.


He came back up and calmly said ‘let’s put on the kayak boots’.  Most of our waterproof kayak gear was up in the condo.  Good thing because we were going down through waterfalls that we once stairs, a lake that was once a parkade and finally a river that was once a driveway.


So while I ran around the condo yelling ‘holy shit look at that river coming out of the parkade!!!’, Peter made a plan.  First, he assessed the safety of going down into the flooded parkade that was almost knee deep.  Would we get electrocuted, was there sewage in the water, would the ceiling collapse?  All of these questions were addressed and answered with a ‘I have no idea’.


We agreed to risk getting out and moving the cars as priority before the water levels rose more.  Then staying out.  Luckily the water hadn’t engulfed the mini and we got the small car and the SUV out in time.  One less thing to worry about.  That is unless the entire road became a river.


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Next up was the storage unit in the parkade.  The room that contained all of our belongings from a recent move from Quebec.  Fear of electricution trumped desire to try to safe stuff.  We stayed clear of the parkade and focused our efforts on helping the man and his family across the street.


We live up in a high end development along the SilverTip golf course.  The houses lining our street are rarely occupied.  Some days we feel like we’re the only people there.  The condo complex we chose was to keep things simple.  The top floor view of the Rocky Mountain crest of Mt Rundle, Three Sisters and more invoke awe just sitting on the couch.  With a furnished unit and indoor heated parking, we figured keeping it simple for a few years before deciding where we wanted to live was a good move.  And we thought with the condo we could come and leave as we please, without the worries of house maintenance and outdoor parking.


Boy were we wrong and thank gawd we were home.


What we were right about was that very few people actually live up there on the mountainside full time.  Most units and homes were investment purchases.  The man across the street was as far as we could see the only full-time occupant.


We’d seen other people at times and rarely did they say hello.  The one exception was Dennis who lived on the floor below in the complex.  He was down in the parkade doing the same thing as us, getting the vehicles out and deciding what the next move was.


The next hours were spent re-directing the water from our new friends: Harry and family across the street.  Harry is from Norway and must have viking blood because he was stoic through it all.  Even with the flash flood flowing into his house he, like Peter, calmly calculated every move before he made it.  His wife and two children inside the house freaked out a little more.  They seemed glad people were there to help.


People from houses down the street came over to aid the water re-direction.  Their houses were dry and they wanted to help Harry.  Harry in turn helped his neighbor who wasn’t home, unplugging his drain and continuing the barricade we made past his house, too.


At one point Harry said ‘I feel a little selfish not helping these other houses’.  I told him what can you do when nobody is home, let’s just focus on keeping you guys dry.


Someone had pulled out the base boards from the entrance to the twin condo complex beside ours.  The one where the elevator shaft had filled so high with water it blew the elevator door out.  The same unit that took the brunt of the flash flood, with floor units filled with boulders and debris, the wild creek flowing right through the windows into the living room and out the windows on the other side.

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elevator door blow out (Peter said after this ‘was I really smiling in that photo?!?’)

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The floor boards were placed along the curb and cedar mulch was packed in behind to create a seal.  Behind the mulch rocks from the flash flood raging through the neighborhood, wood dragged down from who knows how high up the mountain and some landscaping boulders were stacked to reinforce the temporary dyke.


As fast as the water attacked Harry’s house it receded.  Relief filled everyone while the water continued to fill the condo complexes across the road.  Our temporary mountain home.


Already three hours had passed since leaving the 5th floor.  Peter and I both started to shiver when the working stopped.  Rain hammered down and it felt like we were in the Pacific Northwest instead of the Canadian Rockies.  We decided to check the back of the complex because the silt laden water raging along the west of the complexes appeared to be picking up steam to the right.


What we found behind was shocking.  The flash flood was not only still going strong, it was gaining force.  It had rerouted more and was filling up the back side of the units, pouring into now the 3rd floor proper.  The rock retaining wall built for looks and function we were sure was not built for the force of water beating away at it.  The rock wall was beginning to be a ledge for the waterfall that was just beginning on the far end.


It was clear that if a backhoe didn’t come soon, not only were the buildings going to be destroyed, the entire street would indeed wash out.  Only problem was there were parts of Canmore fairing far worse than us.
We decided to go up to our condo and gather some things.  Backpacking gear was packed, passports, some cash, computers and freeze dried food.  Surprisingly the power was still on.  With nothing else to do outside, we decided to stay put until we were officially evicted.  We saw a group of neighbors help an elderly lady out of the swamped main floor before we could help.  Each time we saw someone shouting up an update to Dennis on the floor below us, we went out to listen.
And then finally, the backhoe came up.  Within thirty minutes the flash flood was gone.  The bulk of a machine dug out the trough needed to funnel the flash flood down the slope, into the golf course, and unfortunately down into the river below that we causing havoc in town.

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What was left was mud, rocks, trees, puddles and destruction.  I have never seen this kind of destruction first hand and hope to never see it again.  It would be over a day until the parkade drained enough to open the flooded storage unit.  I’m glad we waited because the damage was hard to take.  Most of what ended up in the dumpster was personal and not worth much in terms of dollars.  All of the art I ever created was one big wad of wet paper.  Some of my art collection garnered while traveling the globe for sport was destroyed.  These are the things the hit deeper than any expensive piece of furniture.  Luckily bikes take the water better than most things.  We had at least ten of them in the storage.

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But in the end, I have to admit, this kind of destruction in the first world has to be put in perspective.  Having traveled to many a third world country where infrastructure is absent at the best of times, we are pretty fortunate to come out with just personal property damage.


Tragically, some lives were lost in Alberta last week .  If I think back to visiting Liberia a few months ago and imagine something like this happening in the slums of West Point or Clara Town where we visited, the devastation of the human kind would be unimaginable.


Out of this disaster we met a lot of nice people who do happen to live in our neighborhoods.  We know the man from Norway and his family across the street.  People came to help when they were done sorting out their own messes.  This disaster brought people together even in the most un-community of places like the one we live in up by the golf course.


We went for a walk that first day, late into the evening.  The golf course was untouched in places, destroyed in others.  It was void of people.  We delighted in seeing a small herd of elk.  Peacefully, they munched away at shrubbery and dandelions.  They hung out and enjoyed the vacant land that was once their wildlife corridor.  We’ve often wondered the intelligence behind a development like this when sneaking across the golf course to get up to the running trails.  Seeing animals up there always made us think is this right that we’ve taken such an obvious chunk of their habitat?

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There is something to be said about the force of nature.  Times like these are reminders we never seem to heed.  Reminders that no, you cannot just build where you want.  Nature will win in the end like she did last week in Alberta.  We are reminded these past few days when walking into the luxury condo complex we are renters in, seeing the relative ghetto it became in minutes because of the flood.


And again, we will most likely not heed her warning.

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