Varcoe: How the 2013 flood ready Calgary companies for the approaching storms

The flood impacted every thing from nook grocery shops and downtown workplaces to eating places and retailers

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First got here the flood. Then got here the pandemic.

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It’s been a wearying journey for a lot of companies since flood waters swamped the town in 2013, forcing the evacuation of as much as 100,000 Calgarians and briefly closing the doorways on greater than 4,000 firms.

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For some entrepreneurs, it was a defining second that examined their dedication. For others, it left their shops or eating places shuttered for months, questioning the way forward for their companies.

For all, the flood that started a decade in the past was unforgettable.

“We left that day in 2013, I used to be knee-deep in water,” says Sal Howell, who owns the River Cafe in Prince’s Island Park, which was surrounded by water from the Bow River and remained closed for 52 days.

“We needed to go away there at 7 o’clock within the night and we knew how briskly the water was coming over the park. It was like nothing we’d seen earlier than. And I believe I had a great cry. I noticed that is going to be devastating.”

On the tenth anniversary of the 2013 southern Alberta floods, many enterprise homeowners look again on the time and vividly recount the whirlwind moments of getting to shut down all of a sudden throughout a catastrophe, after which spending weeks or months rigorously planning to reopen.

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But, additionally they bear in mind the extraordinary neighborhood assist, clients rallying behind their firms, strangers exhibiting up prepared to assist shovel muck, and Calgarians eager to see their hometown corporations survive.

Since then, these entrepreneurs have endured different assessments, from the collapse of oil costs in 2014 and the following financial downturn to the pandemic of 2020 and Alberta’s worst recession in a era.

They’ve utilized some classes discovered from the trials of a decade in the past to the newer tribulations, such because the significance of getting a plan for enterprise interruption and the necessity to over-communicate with workers throughout occasions of disaster.

And, maybe most significantly, the need of digging in when occasions take an surprising flip.

“There’s such an enormous distinction between the 2 sorts of disaster … however there have been plenty of similarities,” Howell says of the flood and pandemic.

“Understanding that sure, we will get via this. And sure, we are going to determine this out — that mindset — as a result of we may have executed it earlier than, we are going to do it once more.”


“My most vivid reminiscence is standing up on the rooftop patio, and simply seeing vehicles crammed with water and the entire avenue crammed with water,” says Phoebe Fung, proprietor of the Vin Room in Mission, on the intersection at 4th Road and twenty fourth Road S.W.

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“It was like a river runs via it.”


The flood that hit southern Alberta in June 2013 left a deep impression on enterprise operators and employees to today as a result of it impacted every thing from nook grocery shops and downtown workplaces to eating places and retailers in inner-city areas reminiscent of Mission.

The Insurance coverage Bureau of Canada says the flooding throughout southern Alberta that summer time led insurers to pay out $1.8 billion, making it one of the crucial costly disasters within the nation’s historical past.

On the time, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce estimated 99 per cent of affected companies reopened after the flood, a testomony to their tenacity.

Downtown Calgary flood of 2013
A view of Prince’s Island Park and downtown Calgary on June 21, 2013. Postmedia file picture

“Wanting again now 10 years later, one of many lasting impacts is definitely a optimistic one. Calgary is now extra resilient, each the town and enterprise neighborhood, than we had been again then,” says Scott Crockatt of the Enterprise Council of Alberta.

“Calgary companies had been stronger and higher ready to tackle the pandemic due to the expertise that a lot of them had instantly with the flood.”

The flood taught policymakers and leaders about the necessity to embrace companies of their restoration plans when coping with emergencies, and the way to finest work together with insurers and banks within the aftermath.

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Native authorities additionally promoted the significance of shopping for native to assist hometown firms, a theme that may resurface through the pandemic.

“The affect of the flood work meant that when the following catastrophe struck – which wasn’t a bodily catastrophe, it was a medical catastrophe – the town’s emergency plan included enterprise,” says Annie MacInnis, government director of the Kensington Enterprise Revitalization Zone.

We would have liked an emergency plan for companies — and companies themselves wanted to have an emergency plan.”


“It was early Monday morning that we received in there and (noticed) epic issues, like our rubbish bins, that are in a concrete enclosure, had been midway down the island, midway up a tree,” says Sal Howell, proprietor of the River Café.


Simply reopening the entrance doorways after the water subsided didn’t imply companies would robotically come again.

Some took weeks to reopen; others required months.

At Mary’s Nook Retailer in Bowness, it took greater than three years.

House owners Kene Cheung and his spouse Jade Tea, who’d run the shop since 2003, noticed the constructing knocked down in 2014 after the flooding, recollects their son, Sam Cheung.

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The impartial comfort retailer, severely broken by the water, lastly reopened in September 2016. Sam’s father died from most cancers earlier than it was accomplished.

Jade Tea and her son Sam Cheung stand in front of the rebuilt Mary’s Corner Store on Sept. 7, 2016.
Jade Tea and her son Sam Cheung stand in entrance of the rebuilt Mary’s Nook Retailer on Sept. 7, 2016. Postmedia file picture

All in all, it was a really painful expertise, and it took us a really very long time to get better. We’re nonetheless recovering from it,” says Sam Cheung.

“It by no means got here again the identical manner. Issues modified. Inside the three years, our clients received used to going elsewhere…. We received numerous our clients again, however nowhere close to the extent we used to.”

Some companies that briefly closed later bounced again, solely to be sideswiped by the financial funk of the previous decade or the pandemic.

But, many stored going and have since recovered.

Manuel Latruwe, who owns a pastry and bread store on 1st Road S.E. that was closed for seven months after the flood, says there was an preliminary second of panic, however he rapidly realized it was solely materials injury that may be lined by his insurance coverage.

“Fortunately for me, as quickly as we opened the doorways, all the clients got here again,” says Latruwe.

“They introduced bottles of wine, to have a good time that (we’re) open once more…. It sort of gave you the additional braveness to get again in enterprise.”

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On the Vin Room, proprietor Phoebe Fung noticed the wine bar shut for 39 days. The intensive injury required a significant renovation, as water stuffed the constructing’s basement and got here up onto the principle ground.

Vin Room owner Phoebe Fung
Vin Room proprietor Phoebe Fung stands on the restaurant’s second ground deck. Ten years in the past she watched from the identical spot as flood waters stuffed the streets of Mission. Gavin Younger/Postmedia

Like Latruwe, Fung had flood insurance coverage. Within the early moments of the flood, she took motion to place in an insurance coverage declare, safe pumps and turbines, and rent tradespeople for the rebuild.

Within the following days, she additionally discovered the need of regularly speaking with workers throughout a interval of disaster.

“After the flood, we got here up with, ‘OK, what’s going to occur ought to we ever have a significant shutdown … and that really helped us once we got 48 hours to close down for COVID,” she provides.

“These are issues that you just study. They’re not classes you need to study, however you’re pressured to study.”


“Downtown was in a blackout. It was a really clear evening, a reasonably evening in any other case. No lights anyplace, however we had our automobiles there, together with a truck. And we had the headlights on within the automobiles and we had been in any other case alone … this group of workforce members, working to save lots of the enterprise,” says Brian Beck, president of Cocoa Group Confections.

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For Brian Beck and workers at Cococo Chocolatiers, now generally known as Cocoa Group Confections, the flood in June 2013 posed an imminent menace to the Calgary-based enterprise.

Lots of of hundreds of {dollars} of completed merchandise had been saved of their freezers.

Shortly after the flooding, Beck and an organization worker managed to get into the constructing’s basement on 1st Road S.E., the place its chocolate manufacturing facility was located, though the constructing had misplaced its electrical energy.

Together with workers and relations, they later arrange a bucket brigade, shuttling containers of merchandise from a big basement freezer right into a refrigerated truck.

“It was basically the distinction between the enterprise persevering with and never,” he recollects.

Nevertheless, the corporate misplaced its manufacturing facility and gear within the submerged basement.

After attempting to function in different native industrial kitchen areas briefly, the corporate finally reopened the manufacturing operation — 4 months after the flood — on the constructing’s principal ground, however in a smaller, makeshift space.

Brian Beck, owner of Cocoa Community Confections, stands in the 1st Street S.E. location of the business in 2014. A year later, the business moved its manufacturing to higher ground.
Brian Beck, proprietor of Cocoa Group Confections, stands within the 1st Road S.E. location of the enterprise in 2014. A 12 months later, the enterprise moved its manufacturing to larger floor. Postmedia file picture

As soon as its lease expired in 2015, Cococo determined to maneuver its manufacturing operations to larger floor in Calgary.

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“By no stretch of the creativeness had been we in any kind of bizarre situation a 12 months after the flood,” says Beck.

“I believe again on the time as a human story —  we survived the flood — not a lot as an financial story. The financial beating wasn’t actually recoverable.”

Entrepreneurs say there are a couple of classes they’ve discovered from each the flood and the pandemic. It’s strengthened the need of not giving up, of adapting — and appreciating how the assist of staff and the neighborhood will be each instrumental and inspirational.

“There are all the time many issues that take a look at you as an entrepreneur and that was a giant one…. There’s a silver lining of the way it brings individuals collectively,” concludes Howell.

“You simply persevered and you bought although via it.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

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