High River flood has forever changed the town, residents

High River resident Amanda Pawlitzki blogged for the CBC last summer about her experiences during and after the floods that hit southern Alberta. Today we check back in with her to see how the community is coping a year later.

Looking back at last June and what it means for those the waters touched

High River was one of the hardest hit communities in the 2013 Alberta floods. (Erin Collins/CBC)

High River resident Amanda Pawlitzki blogged for the CBC last summer about her experiences during and after the floods that hit southern Alberta.

Anniversaries most often are dates where you can remember a moment in time that changed you forever.

Most of the moments are happy — such as weddings, birthdays or graduations. Anniversaries can also be sombre, such as the day a loved one passed away, or an event that would later define you but you never saw it coming at the time.

June 20, 2013, was such an event for my family and me and the town we live in: High River, Alta.

It will always be known as the day of the flood when five people lost their lives in Alberta, the day that changed not just High River but most of southern Alberta. 

Amanda Pawlitzki said her children, her daughter Grae and son Gage, often worry about flooding when it rains. (Amanda Pawlitzki )

My oldest, who is nearly eight, asks every time that it rains if I think it will flood, I reply "No honey," but in actuality I too get a bit worried still. Even a puddle that is deeper than expected makes my pulse race.

The most recent reaction came when my family and I attended a concert put on by local musician and my friend, Karla Adolphe. As she sang, one of her songs' lyrics mirrored the actions of my husband and myself the day of the flood, and I began to feel the tears voluntarily run down my cheek and as if a tap was turned on, tears kept flowing until the song was over.

It felt good though, letting the emotions out to heal. I know a lot of people, this week especially, will have their emotions get the best of them and the smallest thing will trigger reactions.

Moving forward: Road to recovery

Emotions seem to come and go as the recovery process continues to go forward.

Mayor Craig Snodgrass recently said to me during an interview that High River’s recovery will take some time, but what a recovery it will be. One positive out of a tragedy is the town now has resources that it never had before and can now make the downtown the way it was meant to be. Mitigation and other preventive measures have also been put in place.

“I do not feel it will flood again, not to the magnitude that it was, that being said, no one knows what will happen at any time for sure, but I do know this town — we are ready and prepared. As a resident and business owner and the mayor, I feel very safe,” said Snodgrass when asked about fears of flooding again.

Many neighbourhoods have houses that have been torn down.

As you drive down streets, it can seem a bit dismal. In the area I live in, six house have already been torn down and a few more still have to go — it is sad but also hopeful.

To me and several neighbours it is the ending of an era, but a beginning of a new chapter for the people who lost their homes and for the town itself. Irene Kerr with The Museum of the Highwood said that although artifacts have been lost both at the museum and in people’s homes, history is not lost and the flood itself is a big part of High River’s history.

For generations to come people will talk about the flood of 2013.

“Floods have also been a part of our towns history, every flood has been different and none has even been or ever will be like the flood of 2013," said Kerr.

"Sometimes you learn from them, sometimes you don’t. Going forward its another chapter of our history and when people say it will happen this year, I say, 'No it’s not, if we learn anything from our past, we learned it doesn’t happen exactly the same.'"

So as June 20 comes and goes, my hope is that as the years pass, the day is not only about remembering all that was lost, but about reflecting on all that has come out of it — new homes, better design of the town, mitigation and a new sense of community.

Above all else, June 20 did not take away our town, it changed the landscape a bit. And when it rains hard for a few days in a row our hearts may be a bit heavier, but High River was, is and will forever be our home, and nothing can wash that away.


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