Cameron MacIntosh: Calgary floods showcase city of optimism

CBC's Cameron MacIntosh reflects on what he has seen over the past five days while covering the flooding that has devastated parts Alberta, including Calgary -- a city he once lived in but still considers a home.

CBC reporter reflects on what he has seen during the Calgary floods

A few observations... by a former Calgarian.

I've been covering the flooding in Calgary for five days now. There are things that surprise me, there are things that don't.

I've seen and covered floods here before. That a river on the Prairies can suddenly swell up and spill its banks shouldn't surprise anyone. Especially in Alberta in June.

The snow is melting in the mountains, the rivers are swollen. Throw in rain as intense as it has been in the last little while, you will get problems.  

Still, the Bow River is deceptively calm most of the time. Normally it runs shallow and clear through the heart of Calgary. Its mountain waters are icy cold.

But on hot days, people wade into its calm spots and it's not uncommon to see someone rafting or tubing on it. Each day hundreds of runners, walkers and bikers enjoy the paths that run alongside it.

Its sister river, the Elbow, is smaller and meets the Bow on the east side of downtown.

I've seen them both flood before... but it's surprising to see this degree.

Strong civic identity

Last week, they lashed out as swollen, turbid torrents of water, spilling their banks and into people's homes.

Apparently they flooded like this in the 1930s. An event so infrequent few people even considered the possibility.

Not surprising... Calgary's response. It's a unique place.

Over the last 20 years it's grown so fast the inside joke is that no one is actually from there (apologies to my three friends with Calgary printed on their birth certificates).

Yet few places have such a strong civic identity.

When I arrived I found a city full of young, creative and ambitious people, willing to take risks. Calgarians like a challenge.

The will to get back to normal

I've spent a lot of time recently looking at the Bow against the skyline.

I don't know why... but each time I visit, I'm surprised to see another couple buildings rise up on it.

Calgarians take a lot of pride in that image of their city. Right now it's broken.

It was surprising to see those buildings evacuated, shocking to see thousands of homes flooded.

Yes, evacuees are being allowed to go back home but for many the losses are great.

What's not surprising: the will of the people to get things back to normal.

I saw it while watching Calgary's energetic Mayor Naheed Nenshi do an interview on The National.

He spoke of rebuilding.

When it wrapped, one man yelled, "We love you Mayor Nenshi."

The crowd applauded.

It surprised me... but only for a moment.

A city built on optimism

It's the same spirit that drew thousands after the first call for volunteers.

Or the iconic Stampede, completely flooded out. But still organizers are vowing that it will go ahead next week. Embracing a new slogan: "Come hell or high water."

When I moved to Calgary, I was surprised how easy it was to fit in. It wasn't about where you were from, it was about where you were.

It's a city built on optimism.

And it would seem the confluence of two underestimated rivers.

I still consider it a home.

It's stepping up to some big challenges ahead.

I'd be surprised if it didn't.