At a celebration in Fort Smith, N.W.T., this weekend, everyone was feeling gratitude — grateful to be home, to be together, and grateful for the first responders that protected the town from wildfires.
This summer, the Northwest Territories faced an unprecedented wildfire season that saw 70 per cent of the population displaced in mass evacuations. In Fort Smith, residents were evacuated for five weeks, and have only been back home for about a month.
At the celebration in Fort Smith on Saturday, there was live music, plenty of food, and lots of catching up to do. But emotions were high as people reflected on the sacrifices made by firefighters, first responders, contractors, and volunteers who all worked tirelessly to keep the community safe.
"I was so happy, I was so grateful. Our property was still there and our town was safe" said Ming Raab, who attended the event with her son.
Raab said the evacuation changed her.
She's worried about the future, but she's trying to stay positive. She says the unity of the community and showing gratitude does give her hope.
"We're grateful for so many people who worked for us," she said. "They contributed so much for our community,"
Fort Smith resident Ming Raab said that since the town was evacuated this summer, she finds she worries more about the future. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)
Barry Bernhardt evacuated to Alberta with his wife. He said driving back and witnessing the devastation caused by the wildfire was hard to see.
But the evacuation made him appreciate the important things in life.
"It kind of makes you realize that you can't just take life for granted," Bernhardt said. "I'm just grateful for what we have in this town and the wonderful people who live here,"
He said it was important for him to attend the event and show gratitude to everyone who helped save the community.
"We're very appreciative of all the work that's been done by all the firefighters and people who looked after the town," he said.
Fort Smith's deputy mayor Jay Macdonald said that this weekend's celebration was good for everyone's mental health. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)
The Town of Fort Smith was represented at the event by councillor Dana Fergusson, Mayor Fred Daniels, and Deputy Mayor Jay Macdonald.
Macdonald said it was great to see people come together.
"It's so nice to see everyone out and happy and smiling. So I think it's just really good for everyone's mental health in the spirit of the community," he said.
Macdonald also expressed gratitude to all the volunteers, firefighters and first responders.
"A big thank you to everyone," he said. "There was a lot of effort and a lot of sacrifices."
Fergusson said people like to give gratitude and that's why this event was important.
"Everyone's so happy to come home to their community, happy to come home to their homes, happy to come home to see their friends and have their town safe," she said.
The event also featured a slide show by Epéchile Productions, a local production company owned by Pierre-Emmanuel Chaillon. Chaillon stayed in the community during the evacuation and photo-documented the work of first responders and volunteers.
Participants also signed a thank-you note and participated in a group photo.
Residents of Fort Smith gather for a group photo at a celebration this weekend held to thank first responders who kept the town safe during this summer's wildfires. (Colter Freund/CPOW Productions)