When Shawn Chaulk and his family fled Fort McMurray during last May's fire, he left much of his extensive collection of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia behind.
Chaulk, who has been called the "Wayne Gretzky of Wayne Gretzky collectors," has a collection of Gretzky game-worn jerseys, game-used sticks and other equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With few minutes to spare, Chaulk knew he and his manager had to grab what they could from his collection.
"It was just a matter of how much I could grab in the shortest amount of time," Chaulk said on CBC's Radio Active Wednesday. "I was literally throwing everything I could get that I thought was of value towards [his manager] and he was literally stuffing it into hockey bags."
Chaulk grabbed a lot of his collection, including between 60 and 70 game-worn jerseys. But after a couple of minutes of shovelling memorabilia into bags, he had to deal with other important cargo.
"I got to a point of satisfaction and I said … 'I gotta go help my family,' " he said. His manager stuffed a few more sentimental items into the bags while Chaulk gathered his family.
A few minutes later, the family was on their way. "When we left, our neighbourhood was on fire," he said.
After he left, Chaulk said he was thankful for saving what he could. But there were two items he wished he saved — in the freezer, of all places.
He said he recently bought two older sweaters — both of which were made of wool. Chaulk said he put both sweaters in the freezer for a month to rid of any moths or creatures that could potentially damage the wool.
Not thinking to check the freezer in the few minutes he had to spare, he left them behind. "I kinda wished I had gotten those when we evacuated," he said.
'We got out'
Chaulk looked in his rear-view mirror, his kids in the backseat, and pieces of his collection behind them. It was a metaphor for what was more important in his life.
"The hours we spent on the road sitting in traffic, you put in perspective what's behind you," he said.
"At the end of the day, really, if the collection was still a block behind in our house it wouldn't have mattered. We got out.
"The collection at that point really meant nothing to me."
Two days later, his brother, a firefighter, sent Chaulk a picture of his home — it was still standing. He was warned anything could happen, but Chaulk was relieved to see his home still standing while other structures burnt just a block away.
His next worry was food in his freezers ruining his frozen jerseys. He asked another person to grab them days later and ship them to Edmonton. It turns out the jerseys were also unharmed.
"I managed to save absolutely everything," Chaulk said.
Though he still remains the "Wayne Gretzky of Wayne Gretzky collectors," the Fort McMurray wildfire gave him a new perspective on his collection.