Following the devastating 2013 Alberta floods, neighbours across Calgary became closer through the shared experience of recovery and community.
A year later, that same sense of camaraderie led to the creation of Neighbour Day.
A decade after the flood, Neighbour Day has remained a strong community building event that has weathered the tested community spirit of the city through equally hard challenges.
“For the first several of them before the pandemic, we just saw events everywhere. Little tiny events on people’s blocks, and huge community events like this one, and everything in between,” said Naheed Nenshi, who was Calgary’s mayor during the 2013 floods.
“I loved it. I got to almost 30 or maybe 35 events in one day, and it really was about celebrating our neighbours, the people who live around us. So this year, I was feeling a bit wistful about the whole thing and when the Sunnyside folks said ‘oh, you gotta come,’ there is no way I could say no.”
Neighbour Day, which was celebrated this year on June 17, has been celebrated on the third Saturday of every June.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that she wasn’t likely to beat Nenshi in the number of events that she would be attending on Saturday, but that the 13 she had done by 4 p.m., reflected the desire to support communities throughout the day.
“Everyone is just so excited to be in community and be with each other. There’s a lot of people that are reflecting on what happened 10 years ago and there’s a lot of pain that comes with that,” she said.
“But everyone’s together, and they’re supporting each other, and very much like in 2013 when we said we would get through this together, that’s what everybody’s doing today and it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Community strong a decade in a community at the centre of the flood
For Sunnyside, Neighbour Day was about marking the recovery and restoration of Calgary after the devastating 2013 flood.
Hundreds of residents in the community gathered for their annual parade and party, walking the streets from the east end of Sunnyside to The Containers in Kensington.
The parade was both sweet and somber, with community members revelling in the silliness of brass band musicians in cow costumes alongside dinosaurs on skateboards. But with some of those same members recalling how close 2022 came to flooding the community once again, and the trauma that lingers from 2013.
Ward 7 City Councillor Terry Wong, who participated in the parade, reflected on the community spirit that has continued to be shown in Sunnyside.
He said that although the flood was devastating and the fear of it is never going to be erased, each year when Neighbour Day is celebrated and community members come together, it is a reminder of the rebuilding and renewing of the city.
“Having said that, what we’re trying to do is let people know you can put that fear aside because we are incrementally getting to solving the problems. Whether it be the flood mitigation work that’s being done on Sunnyside side, or on the downtown side, or the reservoir that’s done upstream,” he said.
Nenshi, who also walked in the parade, recalled how the corner of 7 Avenue and 5 Street NW—the start of Saturday’s parade—was an epicentre for emergency supplies for Calgarians in 2013. He mentioned how community members had created a pop-up drop-off store where people could come and pick up any supplies they needed.
“This community, like all in Calgary is just a microcosm of people looking after their neighbours. It’s always been like that,” Nenshi said.
Bedecked in a Calgary Emergency Management Agency jacket, the former mayor said that it was a reminder for him of the public servants that served the city during the flood.
“I wanted to wear it today because it reminds me of all the work of the great public servants and the work that they did at that time. So I thought a little call to community and to neighbors who did incredible work, and also to the incredible civil servants.”
Druh Farrell, who served as the Ward 7 Councillor in 2013, said that it feels like the floods were yesterday but that it’s wonderful to see everyone together again.
“It’s really wonderful to see the community spirit and it was that community spirit that helped the community pull through a really difficult time,” said Nenshi.
Neighbour Day about building lasting community in north Calgary
Vivo, which represents many communities in north Calgary, partnered with Parks Foundation Calgary on the Place Matters: A North Calgary Project.
This project aims to allow community members to voice their thoughts and opinions on public park spaces throughout North Calgary.
Neighbour Day marked the start of the third phase of the Place Matters project: the voting phase.
Community members of North Calgary were invited to participate in voting on decisions of the project based on the feedback they’ve already given in phases one and two.
Cheryl Palamar, Director of Marketing for Vivo said that holding the vote on Neighbour Day was the perfect tie.
“Vivo is all about community, Vivo is all about connection so we thought ‘hey it’s Neighbour Day in Calgary, let’s use that platform to talk about this other thing that we really love which is Place Matters,’” said Palamar.
South Calgary gets their party on
This year, the Acadia Community Association hosted a block party featuring local Acadia vendors, a live D.J., street performers and other various activities.
Minh Badau, event coordinator for the Acadia Community Association, said that the association is consistently planning events within their community which opens the door for a lot of outreach and connection between community members.
Badau said that it’s important to take opportunities where they can to coordinate events in the community to allow people to get to know their neighbours.
“I just think with every community it’s important to find opportunities for folks to get together,” she said.
Calgary’s smallest community, consisting of just 270 homes, was also the centre of a party atmosphere for Neighbour Day—although it was a celebration of a party to come.
Meadowlark Park was the winner of the second annual Rumi Good Neighbour Contest, which awarded the Calgary community a $10,000 street party.
Amanda Hagg, social director for the Meadowlark Park Community Association, said that it’s not the number of houses in a community that makes up community spirit.
“A lot of people haven’t heard of us, but we’re a real hidden gem in Calgary, and it’s just the simple stuff that’s made us a great community,” she said.
Hagg said that the community was thrilled to win the contest, which previously awarded West Hillhurst the top neighbourly community in Alberta last year.
“We’re gonna love it because something we do really well is party. Normally our parties consist of what we call impromptu alley beers, where we are literally sitting on coolers in our alley, so this is really going to rev up our party skills. It’s gonna be a lot better than it’s been.”
- With files from Aryn Toombs