Monday, September 9, 2013


One of my favorite things about living downtown in Calgary these past three years has been the simple act of taking a walk. Downtown is made for pedestrians and the sights are always interesting.  So when we found out that we were being transferred to Houston, I promised myself that on my last day in town I would take one, long, final, glorious walk.

That day was Friday, June 21st, during the height of the flooding. It wasn't the walk I had imagined so many weeks before, when the streets were dry and the sky blue.

The keys to my condo were already in my landlord’s hands, so my walk started from a hotel room on 7th Avenue, down near the old Science Center. I headed towards The Core, rain pelting me on the sidewalk which runs beside the train tracks. I wasn't sure how much would be open, but I was hoping to visit Devonian Gardens and the shops on Stephen Avenue one last time.

As I navigated puddles, I wondered if I could hop a C-Train because all of my rain gear was in a moving van headed to Texas. I didn’t even have an umbrella. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to figure out that no trains were running. The platforms I passed were eerily empty and the only vehicle moving down the tracks was a lone RCMP van. Oh well, I decided, I'll just jump into the Plus 15 to get out of the rain.

I had heard on the news that all offices were closed and I suspected stores might be closed too, but I had no idea the Plus 15 would be locked up tight. I've never seen that before. Signs were taped to the entryways stating that for security reasons, the Plus 15 was closed.

So far I hadn't seen any flooding but the city was changed. An unusual quiet filled the streets. On any given Friday afternoon, Calgary is always alive with commuters running for public transportation or friends meeting for a drink. In warmer months the streets explode with diners at outdoor tables, window shoppers and tourists. But this Friday, the only soul out and about was me.
I passed Holt Renfrew and since nobody was there to hear the music they pipe out into the street, it was kind of creepy. The whole city felt like a movie set from one of those disaster flicks. And apparently the cast was taking five. Or maybe I was the entire cast? Yeah, my mind goes to weird places when I don’t have buskers or hurrying crowds to distract me.

Anyhoo, I gave up on Devonian Gardens and Stephen Avenue and turned north towards The Bow River.

Again: Friday Afternoon. Downtown. Empty!!

The walk from Eau Claire to the West End has always been one of my favorites, the paths snaking along the calming river, in the shade of the trees. If you ever passed an annoyingly happy woman on this path who literally stopped to smell the roses, I'm sure it was me.

I passed the Eau Claire YMCA, shocked to see the yellow police tape which closed the path and Prince’s Island Park to the public.

But then I saw the river and gasped out loud. It was high, muddy and fast. Not calming in any way. Every now and then a log or a chair floated by.

Respecting the yellow tape, I walked behind it, in the soggy grass, towards The Peace Bridge. I snapped photos on the way, wondering how The River Café was faring. Frankly, it didn’t look good.

The River Café across the lagoon.

People gathered at the bridge, watching the rushing water. A quiet crowd, but there wasn’t much to say, anyway. 

Further down the path, where it dips beneath the 10th Street Bridge, folks were acting differently. Stupidly, if you ask me. Everyone had to pose in front of the flood waters- some gripped a guardrail and leaned over the churning river. Maybe they suddenly realized the danger, or maybe it was the police headed our way, but I was glad to see the crowd begin to behave.

Since the sign said “PATHWAY CLOSED” (ha) I walked back up to the road, and stood on the bridge briefly to take in the scene.

Looking west from the 10th Street Bridge

Looking east from the 10th Street Bridge.

I continued walking along 4th Avenue, stopping to look back at the path my husband and I had taken just about every day while we lived here. I have lots of photos of that exact scene, recording the way it looks at different times of the year and in different light.

They’re some of my favorite images of this fine city.

 But now, on my last day in Calgary-maybe forever- I had a new image to add to the collection:

And it breaks my heart.  Seeing my city this way is kind of like seeing a friend in hospital. You know they’ll get better, but still, you worry.
I left the next day, my taxi taking an alternate route to the airport because Memorial Drive was closed. As we sped away from downtown, we passed RCMP on horseback. Add that to the “Things I’ve Never Seen Before” list.

People have told me it was ridiculous to hold myself to that promise of having one last walk before moving away from Calgary. That now, instead of happy memories of her streets and paths, I have sad ones. I tell them, how could I NOT take that walk? My dear friend was sick. I had to check on her.


Anonymous said...

Caryl, Glad you took your last walk. You will always have your memories of the bright shining days and the rainy/snowy wet ones.


Margaret said...

Caryl, you totally gave me flashbacks of what it was like in New Orleans after Katrina. It was an eerie ghost town, and left you feeling off balance and just "weird" and sad and shocked. I'm glad you took the final walk even if it left you feeling sad when you moved away. You will in time mostly remember the good days. Great blog post!


caryl said...

Thanks, you guys!

Anonymous said...

You captured that last day perfectly. Despite the rain and flooding, or maybe because of it, it will always be one of your most memorable walks in Calgary. I know you miss that city terribly but remember something your sister, Jacky, said: "Don't be sad that it's over, be happy that it happened."


Anonymous said...

Hi C,

Just thought you might be interested in this link of pics vids of the flood:

Calgary misses you!

Anonymous said...

Hey Caryl, wow! you could not have described it better. Seeing Calgary being destroyed by mother nature was heartbreaking. However, you should have seeing how everyone as a community came together and is helping rebuild this city little by little, by helping neighbours, by helping strangers, everyone lending a hand to each other, it was beautiful in a way to see how everyone came together like one big family, with one goal: help Calgary get better. Reconstruction still continues and the spirit is still up high. Cheers - Jilczy

caryl said...

That's awesome, Jilczy!