Doris Daley was born and raised in southern Alberta.
She lives a 45 minute drive or so from the Bar U Ranch where famous cowboys such as John Ware and Henry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid) toiled for a time after the first herd of 3,000 head of cattle, having been driven north from Texas, established the ranching industry on the eastern slopes of the Rockies. One of her great grandfathers was among the first Mounties who rode out on the expedition of 1874 to bring peace and order to an emerging Wild West.
Described by some as the female Robert Service, she is a cowboy poet. And in a single stanza, she describes her land, her people, their history and their values.
“We knew flood and fire and heartache, we knew fat and we knew bone But we were silver lining people and we never rode alone.”
In June of 2013, just west of Daley’s home of Turner Valley, folks knew flood.
The core of Calgary was overwhelmed when, following heavy rains, both the Elbow and Bow rivers spilled over dams, converged upon and swamped the city. As many as 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes; and for a few days, the once-bustling civic core, bereft of people, took on a post-apocalyptic pallor. How that city rallied and, within two weeks, held its “Hell or High Water” Stampede is reasonably well-documented.
As is the devastation that took place 60 kilometres south of Calgary in High River, where the swollen and rampaging Highwood River swept through the town of 13,000, formed a lake and then, when its banks burst, swept through the town all over again. At one point, water levels rose 20 feet in 20 minutes.
The devastation there was so swift that more than 150 people had to be rescued from their rooftops as 350 Canadian Forces personnel and 80 RCMP were dispatched to the area. Word spread quickly that folks were in trouble. And when folks are in trouble, be it heartache, fire or flood, you don’t even think about it. You just go.
And no one went faster than the people of the Hutterite colony near Cayley, just south of High River, where, within minutes of getting the phone call, Henry Walter called in the women to start making sandwiches, rounded up as many of the men as he could and made a beeline for High River.
Gobsmacked by what they saw, their first acts were to save lives.
As Henry Walter told the Nanton News: “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. There was a woman who was trapped in her car on the Little Bow [river]. They just pulled her out in time. One more minute and she’d have been dead.”
Meanwhile, as most people watched helplessly as four people drifted by in a car, Robert Walter jumped into the flood waters after them and, although they couldn’t swim, got them all out and safely onto higher ground.
The women, sandwiches wrapped, headed for the evacuation centre in High River only to find it overwhelmed by water and were directed to the recreation centre in Nanton, some 30 kilometres south. Emergency food resources to be supplied by first responders weren’t in place, so the Hutterite women took charge. “On that first day, we supplied everything,” Marie Walter (Henry’s wife) told the Nanton News. “Our fridges were empty.” The next day, food—meats, eggs, potatoes, vegetables, cheeses, pickles—began to arrive from 10 other Hutterite colonies across southern Alberta.
Eventually, at least 20 colonies were involved as the Nanton recreation centre became home to more than 700 displaced High River residents. The cooking was non-stop, and the women worked 16-hour shifts.
“They need help. They went away with the shirts on their back. They need everything,” Marie Walter told the Western Producer a week later. “We’re feeding, feeding, feeding. We’re tired, but we will stay at it til it’s all over.”
There will never be a list compiled of the supplies and food provided by the Hutterite people—members of the world’s oldest Anabaptist organization, who eschew private ownership, still speak ancient German, dress traditionally and live pious, hard-working lives.
When municipalities later sought to tally up the costs, Marie Walter told the Nanton News, all she had was her memory to go on.
“MacMillan Colony, they supplied a bunch of eggs, because we didn’t have any eggs. They did all the breakfasts and egg part. They made sandwiches and made two batches of bread—about 35 loaves each in a batch.
“Parkland Colony brought towels, toilet paper, juice, blankets, eggs and cold cuts, at least 15 big jars of tomato vegetable soup, and buns and bread. They even brought a bucket of boiled, cooked eggs.”
Willow Creek Colony brought juice, pork and beans, toilet paper, soap, a variety of cold cuts, cheese, buns and bread. Wild Rose brought a dinner with 100 pounds of fried chicken and all the fixings, cinnamon buns, bread and a green salad.
Starlight Colony brought juice and water, cans of ham and tuna, pork and beans, blankets and toilet paper.
Lomond Colony brought ice tea, all forms of kitchen cutlery, plates, cups and napkins.
Cluny Colony brought pie, cinnamon buns and other buns. Sunshine Colony brought bread. Leedale Colony brought hamburger, as did Arrowwood colony; and Lakeside Colony brought batches of cookies and coffee, ice tea and pop. Cameron Colony brought cold cuts. Livingstone Colony arrived with stew one evening with the works, potatoes, green salad and pumpkin cookies. White Lake made the beef-on-a-bun dinner.
“If anyone was forgotten, please forgive us,” Marie Walter said later. “It was just non-stop. It was out of this world. While I live, I will never ever forget that time. But we enjoyed ourselves. It was heartbreaking, but it was a challenge; and we would do it again in a heartbeat.”
You just know they would. And the Hutterites weren’t the only folks to, as they say in southern Alberta, “cowboy up.”
Samaritan’s Purse, a Calgary-based international Christian aid organization that had previous flood-aid experience following Hurricane Katrina, was on the scene swiftly and throughout the heartbreaking cleanup. Among them was volunteer and well-known country singer Paul Brandt. He had been at the MacDougall Church in Morley, on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, working on a documentary related to his album of old Gospel tunes when the deluge turned to disaster.
And while Morley was certainly affected by the flood, once people there learned of the devastation in High River, a group of volunteers from the Stoney Nakoda band joined Brandt in the recovery efforts.