Tragedy is unpredictable and can strike at any time. But, if and when it does, all we can hope is that we have the support networks and the intestinal fortitude to help us endure. That’s a lesson the inhabitants of Fort McMurray, Alta. were forced to learn when, on May 1, wildfires swept through their community. By May 3rd the fires had destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. By May 19, the fires were still raging, moving westward to Saskatchewan, in what has become one of the costliest disasters in our country’s history.
Watching the drama unfold, Canadians were left with stark images, indelibly painted on their brains, of flames engulfing the entire town and the massive evacuation effort which ensued. It was a nightmare of epic proportions, leading one to wonder how to start the recovery process.
As tragic as the wildfires were, it was heartwarming to see the country come together as one community, donating more than $80 million — the biggest collection of money ever raised in Canada. The story made headlines not only across our country, but around the world.
As the magazine was going to press in late May, the Alberta government announced that evacuees were expected to be able to return to their homes by early June as part of a phased in re-entry. The process should be completed by June 15, coinciding with the full restoration of the Northern Lights Regional Heath Centre.
Many businesses including hotels will need to be rebuilt from the ground up. However, in speaking to some of the hoteliers whose businesses were decimated, it’s clear they are committed to moving forward with new properties. Some, like the Super 8, whose picture was plastered across many media sites, will be rebuilt, in that very same location.
It’s heartening to see Canadians from all walks, including individuals, businesses and even music bands such as Pearl Jam, which donated money from the sales of Canadian concert tickets and merchandise, coming together to help. In fact, foodservice and hospitality companies were among the first to contribute extensively to the fund. From companies such as West Jet, which moved quickly to accommodate displaced individuals, to companies such as Cara, McDonald’s Canada and White Spot — not to mention the federal government, which matched individual donations.
With their generosity of spirt, the process of moving forwarding and rebuilding will be made that much smoother. From the ashes, a new Fort McMurray will take shape.