The morning it became apparent that the Elk River was going to flood, my dad found a fish on the front lawn.
It had rained nearly 130 mm in less than 48 hours and water was rushing out from the storm drains in parts of the Annex. My dad put the fish in a bucket and began sandbagging the neighbours’ yards.
I spent most of the afternoon watching the floodwaters rise. I took a walk along the dike system in the Annex and was mesmerized by the sheer volume of water rushing over the riverbanks and into the dog park. What was usually a grassy area for dogs to roam and play was transformed into a fast-moving, muddy and dangerous water park.
Other areas of the park—like the picnic tables and the wooden bridges—were virtually swallowed up by the water. The secondary dike that borders houses along 11 and 12 avenues was all that was preventing the rising river from taking over people’s homes.
It was around 5 o’clock that I noticed a photo posted by my friend Pauly Roberts of a group of people, shovels in hand, filling sandbags. The caption read, “If you aren’t doing anything, get off your ass and help out our community.”
Soon after I received a text message from another friend saying that the Go Skateboarding Day (hosted by Commit Snow & Skate at the skate park) was cancelled. Paul McGrath, who organized the skate day, announced online that the free barbecue was moving to the City yards in order to help those people who had been volunteering their time all day sandbagging.
I headed there shortly after to find at least 100 people gathered around piles of sand, shoveling scoops into cloth sandbags. There were shovellers, bag holders, bag tiers, bag loaders, truck drivers, and sandbag delivery people. Everyone had a job to do and not a single person appeared to plan on stopping.
I began shoveling sand and an hour later stood back and ate a hot dog (courtesy of Commit and Overwaitea Foods), observing the wide variety of people helping out.
Margaret and Bob Singleton, both longtime Fernie residents, were at one of the sand piles tying sandbags. Margaret’s father, 91, lives in the Annex and had his property sandbagged that afternoon.
I talked to Margaret and told her how great it was to see her and her husband here helping. Far too humble, she brushed aside my remark and began commending others for being there.
“What’s really nice is that I overheard a young woman who had just recently moved to Fernie and she is out here helping,” she said to me. “She’s helping people she doesn’t even know.”
As the night carried on trucks came and went, people unloaded sandbags and the camaraderie between strangers grew. Hot dogs grilled on the barbecue, beers of encouragement were delivered thanks to the Fernie Brewing Co. and volunteers, young and old, worked tirelessly.
Some even stayed until 1 a.m., the floodlights shining on the piles of sandbags that continued to grow higher into the night.
With more than 300 volunteers and 25,000 sandbags, the community of Fernie (and surrounding areas)—though now waterlogged and muddy—grew a little bit stronger during that Friday night flood.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I am proud to be a part of a community like ours.