Family Lines

stories for you

Month: June 2013

Flooding Calgary with a sense of community

Rushing river over bridge.

Bow River on Saturday, June 22, 2013. For a video of the river a day earlier, click here.

Lots of memories were made this past week in Calgary…and many weren’t good ones. The flooding that hit southern Alberta will leave an indelible mark on the land, economy and in our minds. It was heartbreaking to see homes and businesses filled with water and streets gushing like rivers.

The flooding started in Canmore on Thursday, June 20 and Calgarians started to feel the water seeping into the edges of their communities the same afternoon. By evening, the Bow and the Elbow rivers had converged on the city and soaked the usually bone-dry urban centre right to its core. And it was still raining.

On Friday, Aboriginal Day, a friend and I walked down to the Bow River early in the morning to check out the situation. It was high – touching the bottom of a bridge that usually sits several metres above it. Reports said the water still had 30 to 35 per cent more to go before it crested. Mother Nature can be crushingly awesome.

So can people.

While watching the river, we chatted about the water with people – things like if they had been affected and how sad all this was. Conversations were brief but they were still conversations. It’s interesting to note that before the flood, often when I passed by people on the sidewalks or pathways I’d look at them and smile. Sometimes I’d say, “Good morning,” or “Hi.” Out of the many people I’d pass, only one or two ever responded.

Calgarians are busy. They don’t have time for pleasantries. They have a meeting to get to or something more important that voids a “hello” in return to mine. But now, as we stood by the rushing river, a sense of community in the face of all this destruction started people talking to each other.

Calgary Kijiji ads.

Calgary Kijiji ads

During this vast tragedy a few things have stood out: How people are standing up for each other. Kijiji is inundated with offers to house people and pets and offers of clean clothing. On Twitter and Facebook there are questions about how to help. What do the evacuation centres need? Where do Calgarians drop off donations? It’s becoming about community. Hopefully that will be one of the things remembered about this historical week after the water recedes.

A beast of the wild


Yuck. A squirrel. Photo credit:

I’m not afraid of spiders, big or small (I’ve lived in Africa and seen both). I’m not afraid of mice or rats. I’m not afraid of snakes.

I’m afraid of squirrels.

Hate those fuzzy bastards. Why? I read a news clipping about 20 years ago that told the story of junkie squirrels in New York City’s Central Park. They were getting high off of syringes left behind by drug users. The squirrels would then run amok and attack people at random. Doesn’t that scare you?

It scared me. The vision of high squirrels stuck with me and I could never remove it from my brain.

The spring just after graduating from Acadia University in the 90s, three friends and I stepped into nature for a break before hitting the real world. Kat, Dan, Doog and I hiked to an old but sturdy log cabin in the middle of the forest near Liverpool, N.S. The spot was called Meadowbrook and used to be the site of a commune (or at least that’s the legend).

Meadowbrook was idyllic – far away from humans and traffic and computers calling us into the work force. In a clearing stood two buildings, a log barn and the tiny log home. They were both standing strong after many years of disuse. The cabin had two floors – the ground floor with enough room for a bench and a wood stove, and the top floor – a loft where we would sleep.

It was early June and the weather was treating us right The sun shone on the land and warmed it up, bringing out the scents of mud and growing grass. We lounged around for what was a perfect afternoon and in the early evening, prepared a great outdoor feast.

Sated after our big meal and a midnight bonfire, we hit the hay. We climbed into our sleeping bags in the loft and drifted off to sleep after all the fresh air.

That’s when I heard it.

Scritching and scratching above the four of us. Shining a flashlight around the room I caught the form of a…squirrel.

I reacted in a way I’m not proud of. I screamed.

Headlamps went on and put the creature in the spotlight. It was hanging above us, holding on to the bark-covered ceiling with its claws. I was still screaming.

Doog rushed to my rescue. He tried to shoo the squirrel away by waving a book at it. But since the rodent wasn’t interested in reading it scuttled away across the rafters, like one of those aliens on Alien, right over to me. I screamed louder. Doog was bouncing around the loft shouting at the squirrel, Kat laughed her head off and Dan silently took it all in.

After bounding about over our heads for several seconds, the confused squirrel halted for a moment. And then peed. The rodent urine rained down from the ceiling and onto Kat’s sleeping bag. It made her laugh harder and Doog worked harder to get the squirrel out of the loft. I ran downstairs and outside. Where there are a thousand more squirrels.

Finally, Doog managed to take care of the squirrel in the cabin, Kat stopped laughing and mopped up the squirrel pee and I returned to my bed. But I’ve never returned to Meadowbrook.

To laugh or not to laugh

Humour is one way to deal with tough issues. Last Tuesday, while leading a memoir writing workshop at Alpha House, the participants taught me that jokes are allowed even in the deepest and darkest moments. They gave me permission to laugh with them when I might have otherwise cried for them.

Alpha House is a shelter in Calgary that gives those whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies a safe and caring home. I conduct volunteer seminars there through a Calgary non-profit organization: This is My City (TMC). TMC brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status because art builds bridges and lessens differences.

Last week’s session was my third at Alpha House. I’m instructing a class called “Write YOUR own story.” Unlike other workshops, where the same people attend every time, the writers at Alpha House are different every time. This past week I had five participants, four women and one man, who used a lot of humour in their conversation and writing.

From writing about their passions such as being outdoors or cooking, to describing what certain emotions feel like to them, the students were engaged and did a lot of work writing about themselves. In between the confessions of heartbreak and heartache, they joked about their addictions. At first I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to do. But they told me it was OK to giggle at their sometimes dirty, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes shocking — but always funny — digs at themselves.

The issues they face are no laughing matter. They’re serious. But if we fail to see some humour in our personal tragedies, then what’s the point of remembering how we got to where we are now? Or thinking about how far we’ve come.

The making of Loyalists

Book about Loyalists.

The United Empire Loyalists, Alberta Bound
Compiled by Linda McClelland U.E.

Calgarian Linda McClelland is proud of her heritage. So much so that she undertook an ambitious project to mark the centennial in 2014 of the incorporation of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC).

United Empire Loyalists were people loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution (1775-1783) – and they weren’t just white folk from the U.K. Other Europeans as well as Black and First Nations people who were among those considered Loyalists. Their descendants are recognized with the honorific U.E. and are found all over Canada. Linda traced her family back to the Loyalists and uses the U.E. after her name.

She also compiled the history and stories of United Empire Loyalists into a book called, The United Empire Loyalists, Alberta Bound. I helped edit this priceless historical collection and think it’s a worthwhile addition to any classroom or personal library.

To download a free ebook, please click here:

To download a free PDF copy, please click here:


To buy a hard copy, please e-mail me at and I’ll pass your information along to Linda.




© 2018 Family Lines

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑