BLOG | 'Portable progress' after High River flood

Progress does not always look the way you imagine it. But regardless of how it looks, progress is happening in High River.

Blogger Angela Piovesana on how the community is moving forward

Saddlebrook, the temporary residence for some High River flood victims, features many amenities, including a coffee bar, grill house and gym. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

High River residents Angela Piovesana and Amanda Pawlitzki will be blogging over the summer about their experiences during and after the floods that hit southern Alberta.

They'll tell stories of the recovery through the eyes of people who live there.

Progress doesn’t always look the way you imagine it. But regardless of how it looks, progress is happening in High River.

By the time Carlo Balmedilla’s roommate woke him up the morning of June 20 to tell him the water was coming, he had just enough time to pull on shorts and a T-shirt, grab his laptop and jump into his Jeep Cherokee.

The water was already to his Jeep’s tires and Balmedilla says he’s grateful he was able to drive out at all.

He spent the first few weeks at the Nanton evacuation centre and from there was transferred to the University of Lethbridge campus residences. Commuting back and forth to work was not only expensive, but the drive was long and exhausting, he says.

Now he’s at Saddlebrook, the portable community that opened a week ago.

As we talk he takes me on a tour of the new community. There is a cafe where meals are currently free for Saddlebrook residents and there is a coffee bar that’s available anytime. With a big smile he tells me about the grill house, which is open until midnight.

Meals at the Saddlebrook are currently free for people staying there. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

Balmedilla, who works the night shift at Cargill Foods meat processing plant, says the community even has refrigerated meals for those who work odd hours.

Genuinely impressed, he then takes me to the fitness room which is equipped and ready to use. 

The apartment he had been renting was destroyed, and Balmedilla doubts he’ll be able to return. Saddlebrook gives him the opportunity to stay close to High River while the town is being rebuilt, he says.

A makeshift community

The temporary residence at Saddlebrook is not the only "portable" solution as High River rebuilds. 

At a meeting for High River business owners last week, we were given a glimpse at the temporary solution for those of us whose buildings will not be inhabitable in the short term. The lofty plan is to have the temporary structures near the original locations, all the while staying out of the way of construction.

The 400-foot structure will be set up to accommodate as many businesses as possible.  It will look similar to a strip mall, with each business having its own secure space and separate entrance. 

Driving around town you see other trailers conveniently placed alongside buildings.

These include banks, which aren’t offering complete services yet, aiming to make up for it with personal attention.

Schools are working together, preparing to share land as fall approaches.

Notre Dame Collegiate, the Catholic high school whose building is now condemned, will set up trailers on the grounds of its sister elementary school, Holy Spirit Academy. Holy Spirit, however, will have trailers at Senator Riley school, as the academy is fully restored. Once it is, students will move back into the original building, meaning both Catholic schools will be on the same property.  

So while "portable progress" may look nothing like what High River once was, it’s keeping services in town, residents employed and, most important, allowing us to live local.

The province opened Saddlebrook last Wednesday. Residents won't have to pay rent for the first 90 days. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)


  • Senator Riley will reopen in its original location, not in trailers, as suggested in the first version of this post.
    Sep 13, 2013 1:57 PM MT