Receiving a briefing from CEMA at the Village Square Leisure Centre Reception Centre
Receiving a briefing from CEMA at the Village Square Leisure Centre Reception Centre

Last Thursday evening, after hearing about all the craziness happening with the river, I did my best to secure equipment at my basement office downtown, moving things to higher ground within the building and helping others to do so as well.

Being a transit user, I wanted to get out of the downtown core as quickly as I could because I didn’t want to get stranded.

I got home at around 8:30 p.m. and was looking forward to bunkering down and waiting out the storm, not knowing what to expect from it at that point.

At about 10 p.m. just as I was getting ready for bed, I received an email from Stampede Volunteer Services asking for 120 volunteers to help work at the various Reception Centres around town in eight hour shifts for the next 72 hours. The first shift was slated to be from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Not having a car and because some of the locations were remote from where I was located, I replied by saying that I’d take any shifts that were available starting the next day. I figured I’d have enough time to plan my route to wherever I would be sent, and an opportunity to rest up for what was looking to be a long day of volunteering.

Then 20 minutes later, I received an email from my committee chair with an urgent request for volunteers at the Reception Centre located at Centre Street Church, which was in the same quadrant as myself (though just barely).

Now fully appreciating the urgent nature of the emergency, I threw on whatever clothes I could find, hopped on my bike and peddled my way there. I had never been to the Centre Street Church before, and so after a couple of wrong turns, I arrived at around 11:45 p.m.

Bonnie trains us in processing evacuees at the Centre Street Church Reception Centre
Bonnie trains us in processing evacuees at the Centre Street Church Reception Centre

I was quickly introduced to Bonnie, who was responsible for training new volunteers on behalf of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA). Our job was to process evacuees who were checking into the Centre.

The purpose was two-fold. First, register them so that if loved ones were searching for them later on, the city and the Red Cross would know where they were and could tell them. Second was to find accommodations for those who were displaced and had nowhere else to go.

The view at 2 a.m. during Night One at the Centre Street Reception Centre
The view at 2 a.m. during Night One at the Centre Street Reception Centre

As the night went on, I learned many things. Many of the city workers who were manning the Reception Centre had already been pulling 8-12 hour shifts there, so the Stampede volunteers were welcome relief. The City folks who arrived early to prepare the venue would be able to go home, take a shower and get some rest before they had to come back and do it all again.

I also learned that our city and our government take care of its citizens. Many people had left their homes with little notice and only with what they could carry. Accomodations were found for anyone who needed somewhere to stay for the duration of the evacuation. They were fed and given vouchers to ensure that they wouldn’t go hungry while the city was under a State of Emergency.

We helped Calgarians of all sorts that night. Those who were well off and those who were not, we didn’t turn away a single soul. We even helped a family of six who were visiting from Quebec and were scheduled to stay at a hotel in an evacuation zone. They had no family here and had nowhere else to go, but we found them a place to stay and ensured that they were taken care of.

The view at 5 a.m. during Night One at the Centre Street Reception Centre
The view at 5 a.m. during Night One at the Centre Street Reception Centre

My shift was supposed to end at 6 a.m. but we were allowed to leave an hour early as we had managed to process everyone who came in that night.

When I arrived home, I found that I couldn’t sleep so I emailed Stampede Volunteer Services asking if any other shifts were available. I ended up assigned at the Village Square Leisure Centre Reception Centre for 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. that same day. I made myself lunch and peddled my way there to do it all over again.

When I emailed again the next day asking for any other shifts, I was told that they were all full, which isn’t surprising considering this is Calgary. So I’ve been spending the last few days wandering around the Inglewood and Mission areas helping people clean out their homes and rebuild. I figure it’s the least I can do since my home is completely safe.

As I await the call to help out on Park to deliver Stampede 101, I can’t help but feel proud that I live in the city that I do.

It was working the graveyard shift that first night and speaking with a wide variety of people there where I gained a great appreciation for the city I live in and the citizens who live in it.

We take care of our own, we take care of the people who visit our great city, and Western Hospitality isn’t just a buzzword or exclusive to those in the Stampede family.

No, Western Hospitality is at the core and fibre of our beings as Calgarians.