Six months after Alberta floods, hundreds are still living in temporary camps

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Saddlebrook, the temporary neighbourhood built north of High River for flooded-out residents, is set to close at the end of the summer and the province has purchased an apartment block to move displaced families to after that.

There's good news and bad news in word that one of the two camps set up house victims of last summer's devastating southern Alberta flood is set to close.

The Great Plains camp in Calgary will shut down at the end of this month, 660News reports.

The camp, neat lines of modular homes connected with wooden boardwalks, was opened in October and originally designed to house up to 700 people. However, only 70 families actually moved in and just 28 remain, 660News said.

That's the good news. The bad news is that hundreds of people in a second, larger camp are still out of their homes they struggle to fix or replace their flood-damaged houses and settle compensation with the government and insurance companies.

Alberta officials said they are trying to find affordable alternative housing for the remaining Great Plains residents, who may end up in the remaining Saddlebrook camp, near High River. The town, about 40 km south of Calgary, was badly damaged by flood waters.

The flood in late June, triggered by days of heavy rain that swelled rivers, claimed four lives and forced more than 100,000 people out of their homes. Damage was estimated to be about $6 billion, making it the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

[ Related: Alberta flood recovery officials work to 'unstick' stalled claims ]

It inundated low-lying parts of Calgary, including the downtown core. The Stampede exhibition grounds were under water, and the Saddledome Arena filled to the first 10 rows just two weeks before the Calgary Stampede was set to start.

Some 200 homes on the Siksika First Nation, east of Calgary, were flooded.

All of High River's 13,000 residents were ordered out of their homes and whole neighbourhoods were rendered uninhabitable.

The government set up Saddlebrook camp near town to accommodate about 1,100 people. Some 500 local residents are still living there, the Calgary Herald reported recently.

The province expected Great Plains to stay open for six months, but its dwindling population caused the government to move up its closure date. The decision came as a surprise to some residents, the Herald said.

Camp resident Ainsley Tymchyna said she only found out during a casual chat with an Alberta Municipal Affairs employee when she went to ask about plans to build a skating rink.

"I'm pretty mad, actually," she told the Herald.

Her family's suburban Calgary home was declared structurally unsound and she is in arbitration with the province's Disaster Recovery Program over the $9,000 they've offered as compensation.

“Our only option available would be to go to Saddlebrook, which really isn’t much of an option for us,” Tymchyna said.

Camp residents pay rent ranging from $627 a month for a single adult up to more than $1,500 for a family with six kids. That covers everything, including meals, housekeeping, Internet, cable TV and other services.

[ Related: Alberta feels the heat over gun seizures during June flood ]

Some have chafed under the strict security at the camps.

"I feel like a PoW," Great Plains resident Richard Dey told the Calgary Sun last month.

Security guards patrol the camps and any visitors entering the temporary neighbourhood must be cleared in advance, the Sun said.

Municipal Affairs Ministry spokesman Cam Traynor was unapologetic.

“It isn’t like a normal neighbourhood, it’s government-provided accommodation and there are security protocols," he told the Sun.

The camps are run by an Ontario contractor, Outland Camps, which has an agreement to keep Saddlebrook open until March, but the camp manager Philip Dawson told the Globe and Mail last month that could be extended.

“Some folks are saying their home is not going to be ready until the end of spring,” Dawson said. “They’re going to have to find housing for them somewhere and there really is nothing around.”