Art / Cycling

Post-Flood: Art and Memory Along the Bow River, Calgary

Do you ever blog, write, paint or photograph something that you saw but know it will disappear forever? That your act of solidifying its image, is to brand it alive in your memory and heart for years to come?

Underfoot delicate details of horse calvcade --a nod to aboriginal culture, ranching, Stampede and just horse lovers. One of several murals in "The Field Manual" suite. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Underfoot delicate details of horse calvacade –a nod to aboriginal culture, ranching, Stampede and just horse lovers. One of several murals in “The Field Manual” suite. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

I’ve been feeling this way lately.

Several weeks ago, a major flood in Calgary destroyed several hundred homes and

Partially constructed new $25 million bike pedestrian bridge was smashed by Bow River flood waters. Bridge spans over to St. Patrick's Island -- just 4 km. away from home. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Partially constructed new $25 million bike pedestrian bridge was smashed by Bow River flood waters. Bridge spans over to St. Patrick’s Island — just 4 km. away from home. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

evacuated 100,000 residents. This disaster, only accentuates for me, not only possible, but known future losses of both possessions and loved ones.

Before Disaster Hits
Before the flood, I saw three artists painstakingly working as a team, on their new outdoor art murals in Calgary’s East Village by the River Walk bike-pedestrian path. The collection of murals is entitled: “The Field Manual. A compendium of local confluence”. These murals are executed by Daniel J. Kirk, Ivan Ostapenko and Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher.

These arresting and vibrant murals adorn bridge abutments, storage sheds and exterior of public washrooms.

Mural depicts historical sweep of key local historic-cultural developments --aboriginal history, migrant miners, city beginnings as Northwest Mounted Police output, as major western prairie railroad transport stop, Chinese-Canadian contribution, and even the light transit rail is featured. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Mural depicts historical sweep of key local historic-cultural developments –aboriginal history, migrant miners, city beginnings as Northwest Mounted Police output, as major western prairie railroad transport stop, Chinese-Canadian contribution, and even the light transit rail is featured. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Every day I biked by and photographed their dynamic evolution. I chatted up with one of the artists who like his colleagues, were enjoying attention and curiosity of the public.

Latter mural extension of previous mural (with cowboy, Chinese worker) features First Nations, Blackfoot Indians under night sky with northern lights. Calgary AB 2013.  Photo by J. Chong

Latter mural extension of previous mural (with cowboy, Chinese worker) features First Nations, Blackfoot Indians under night sky with northern lights. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

More importantly, the artistic trio, were engaged in discussion with anyone about their art imagery, as they took breaks from painting.

Artistic details for the love of horses and their different characters. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Artistic details for the love of horses and their different characters. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Some of the images are on digital photographic film of the original artwork, laid onto the concrete. Then the artists painted more colour and images across the mural.

What bewilders an art-lover, layperson like myself, is that these art installations, will only be gracing the area for 2 years. Why vapourize these images? Why stop the informal dialogue and learning on depiction of local history, cultural legacies and events?

Aboriginal inspired cyclist cradling beaver (found in Calgary rivers) and has a fox hanging on at the rear. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Aboriginal inspired cyclist cradling beaver (found in Calgary rivers) and has a fox hanging on at the rear. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Shortly after I read the art piece’s short life, then the flood hit the city on June 20-21, 2013.  East Village was one of neighbourhoods submerged under several metres of river water from the banks of the Bow and Elbow Rivers –near the confluence, a source of artistic inspiration for the imagery.

At least the lower part the art murals, would have had some the flood waters lapping around them. These murals are over 6 metres high or more.

Near bike wheel, some map fragments highlighting the Bow River area  --where all these murals are located only a few metres away from river's edge. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Near bike wheel at the bottom of the mural, some map fragments highlighting the Bow River area –where all these murals are located only a few metres away from river’s edge. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

I was in another city after I evacuated from my neighbourhood. Upon my return to Calgary, I had to see how the murals fared in the disaster. So I biked over to the site.

These murals were scrubbed bright, clean and more details had been layered in. I wasn’t sure when the sculpture of 2 hands forming a string cat’s cradle, were installed. However the playful fingers were fitting for a damaging, life-changing flood that would now be woven into Calgarian narrative history for decades to come.

Cat's cradle of interwoven historic-cultural developments, Nature and events that contribute to Calgary.  Taken post-flood (plus most other photos in this blog). 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Cat’s cradle of interwoven historic-cultural developments, Nature and events that contribute to Calgary. Taken post-flood (plus most other photos in this blog). 2013. Photo by J. Chong

If it weren’t for gouged riverbanks where the mighty rivers scoured through, the uprooted tree stumps, damaged bridges, water soaked buildings and mud smudged pavements, just by looking at these murals, you wouldn’t have known there had been massive flood devastation thrown upon the city.

Close-up of some historic figures alluding to Calgary's 19th century rough life --bar patron, maybe former miner, bar dancer, Chinese labourer (railroad or restaurant). Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Close-up of some historic figures alluding to Calgary’s 19th century rough life –bar patron, maybe former miner, bar dancer, Chinese labourer (railroad or restaurant). Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Even now, thousands of residents are still trying to scramble around, to recover and rebuild.

Earlier in another blog post, I lamented on lack of large scale public art that articulated Calgary’s cultural history and legacies. But this collection of mural art in East Village, expresses a grand historical sweep of aboriginal legacies, city as former law enforcement outpost for the Northwest Mounted Police (now RCMP), cowboys, miners, Chinese railroad workers and as a national railroad shipping stop for Western Canada.

One of the artists at work. They parked their bicycles by their work site.  Artistic team for this suite of murals are: Daniel J. Kirk, Ivan Ostapenko and Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher.

Photo taken 2 weeks before the flood: One of the artists at work. They parked their bicycles by their work site. Artistic team for this suite of murals are: Daniel J. Kirk, Ivan Ostapenko and Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher.

Prairie and other stereotypical western Canadian icons are there, but playfully intertwined and merging in motion and semi-dream memories.

Even, as you look closely at the bottom of the large cyclist, or amongst images of growth, urban development, there is the river snaking through geological time and space.

Harkening to tree of life and waters that sustain us all. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Harkening to tree of life and waters that sustain us all. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

What I like this art is it stimulates local memory, curiosity, learning and vibrant possibilities for same icons locals know, but in a different visual context. The Field Manual, this art compendium, is free for contemplation and not stuck in a gallery room. But only for the next 24 months.

Rabbit details -a nod to wild large rabbits in this area and in local parks. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Rabbit details -a nod to wild large rabbits in this area and in local parks. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

 Some Interesting Reading:
Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. The Field Manual: A compendium of local confluence. East Village curated art program expands with new installation on River Walk. May 13, 2013. More about the history of East Village.

City of Calgary. Infographic highlighting flood and municipality’s response.

Chong, Jean. Injecting Life and Identity: Outdoor Public Art in the Prairies. In Cycle Write Blog, Apr. 13, 2013.

Francey, D. Timeline: How the Great Flood of 2013 Evolved. In Calgary Herald, Jun. 24, 2013.

Note: A great deal of Calgary news coverage by local newspapers and tv is available on the Internet. Globe and Mail article provides some sample social media of video clips and photos. First photo in National Post article, is of East Village where all the bike-pedestrian paths, some mural art and some buildings were submerged.

Nature and urban development. Bow River is only a few metres away from these murals. Water level is normally not far from ground level.

Nature and urban development. Bow River is only a few metres away from these murals. Water level is normally not far from ground level. Behind the mural, is River Walk bike-pedestrian path. Calgary AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong. Photo taken 3 wks. after major flood.

Post flood cookies sold by a local bakery in Inglewood neighbourhood. The bakery lost over $40,000 worth of baked goods and products during the flood.

Post flood cookies sold by a local bakery in Inglewood neighbourhood. Bakery lost over $40,000 worth of baked goods and other damage during the flood. Motto was first used by the Calgary Stampede for their black fundraising T-shirts. Stampede still occurred just shortly after enormous flood clean-up. At this time, disaster recovery is ongoing.

Over 100,000 Calgarians were evacuated during the flood. Approx. 200 residents now need to find temporary housing since their homes are uninhabitable. Calgary has a population of 1.3 million people.

Yes, I was one of the evacuees.

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27 thoughts on “Post-Flood: Art and Memory Along the Bow River, Calgary

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, photographs and words to the disaster. I watched from Ottawa as the news covered the floods and felt for the families that were going through such devastating times. Of course, now the media has moved on to other disasters, and we hear so little of how people are faring. I hope you are back at home and life is continuing to move forward.
    I also love your essay on the urban art…I recently did a Graffiti Tour in Toronto and found it so fascinating. Love your insight, and the fact that you had a chance to actually talk to the artists as they were working. While not as poignant as what you have done, I still enjoyed the background into the urban art subculture! http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/2013/06/28/urban-art-the-graffiti-subculture-in-toronto/

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    • The tragedy of the train derailment several wks. later in Quebec, just makes our flood disaster somewhat paler because they lost a lot of lives. I believe there was 1 death as a result of the flood –an older woman living in a flooded neighbourhood who drowned.

      I live downtown near the Bow river that got unruly..I could hear the faint roar of the surging river on the night when it began to flood. I’m working from home because my employer’s main building’s electrical and telecommunications system was badly damaged. Damaged enough that it won’t be back for all us employees to return for another few weeks from now.

      Toronto offers a lot in terms of outdoor art. Did you see the any of the street pianos that are painted per country? They are all over the downtown area. I barely have time to see new stuff since I’m running around seeing friends and family whenever I visit.

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  2. Pingback: Urban Art: The Graffiti SubCulture in Toronto | Travel Destination Bucket List

  3. I have been meaning to visit the East Village for quite some time now but just haven’t made it down there. Thanks for sharing these photos and commentary that accompanies them. I trust you are piecing your life back together post flood.

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    • There are more different murals in the area not featured in the blog post. You won’t regret the stroll around there.

      Our building had flooding in the underground area where all our storage lockers are. Fortunately I dragged up the precious bikes, etc. upstairs. Other people who stored stuff in paper boxes, etc. on the floor, had water damage. Took us over 2 wks. to air dry all our stuff..that is if any of it was kept at all. Probably aired..as evidence for insurance adjusters.

      We had up to 18 inches of water in some areas. But still luckier than a building across the street that had 4 ft. of water.

      And spoiled fridge food because our building had the power cut for 5 days.

      But life is much better than others who have lost an enormous amount.

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  4. Wonderful outdoor art! I visited Canmore and Banff in 2007, and have wanted to re-visit and write about every since. Glad to see the Canadian can-do spirit is rallying in the face of the flooding.

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    • Canmore and Banff are great places to visit and am glad you have fond memories. There’s a new 22 km. bike path completely protected from cars, between Canmore and Banff to enjoy the mountain scenery changes along the way.

      Well, yes there have been the efforts muster cheerfulness. But for those who have lost a huge physical hunk of their house and possessions it is hard. The flood recovery will take months for some people and other parties involved.

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  5. I’ll have to make a point of seeing these murals the next time we come into the city. We should have more time to do things like this now that our summer village has been wiped out by the river!

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    • Certainly it’s been tough on High River homeowners like yourself. Consider seeing the murals, as a distraction to learn something that you might have known about Calgary but in a different light. Do you think you still want to be in Alberta as a 2nd place..?

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      • We were in Hidden Valley on the Siksika Reserve. Our community is completely gone, though the homes on the Reserve will be refurbished.

        Since there will be no assistance for owners of 2nd places, there will not be another 2nd place for us.

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  6. These murals are simply breathtaking… I’d love to go to Calgary one day. Those floods were terrible… I’m sad to hear you were one of the evacuee. How’s Calgary coping now?

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    • If you ever need touristy advice, just ask! We’re 130 km south of Banff. As noted in my earlier responses to other commenters on the blog post, I didn’t have much loss –fridge of spoiled food, some wet small things since our basement storage lockers got flooded. Our building was evacuated for 5 days –which means elevator for condo building did not work, nor was there any emergency lighting in the stairwells. Not a safe place to be. Some people have a lost a lot of their personal possessions or have ruined basements, lst level of their house in Calgary. Some commercial buildings downtown still aren’t safe to be reoccupied. I’m working from home and probably will be for next few weeks. Which means some employees have been displaced now for 1 month since flood.

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    • My personal life is back on track. As for work, I’m one of 1,300+ employees (or 40%) displaced and not allowed to work in our main building. So am working from home which is ok for certain things but not for other work which requires collaboration and working with internal clients.

      The flood waters poured into our 7-storied underground parking garage. About 5 ft. of water which included some wild trout fish! It damaged all of our building’s electrical and mechanical systems which was where the equipment was based. Thankfully our technology group had moved all our corporate computer serves just after last Christmas to a totally different area of the city on higher ground. We could have lost some significant data forever.

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  7. Wonderful post, Jean. Some of the best art I’ve seen has been transitory, and is today forgotten by all but a few. Perhaps that’s because so much art has a kind of immediacy, which dooms it to being short-lived. Trying to preserve it seems almost futile– like trying to keep something on life support when it’s outlived its bright shining moment. It’s a dilemma, one I don’t fully understand.

    Loved the Hell Or High Water cookies. Art that uses humor to mock bitter twists of fate is enormously empowering. It gives us the upper hand in a way, and says we won’t let fate or hard times defeat us.

    Sorry you had your life disrupted, good to know you’re OK and battling your way back.

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    • Trying to preserve it seems almost futile– like trying to keep something on life support when it’s outlived its bright shining moment. It’s a dilemma, one I don’t fully understand

      Your first paragraph the above sentence captures the shared sentiment wonderfully with many other art admirers and artists themselves. Yes, after the bright shining time, the art becomes like wallpaper that people take for granted. They don’t see it or notice it much anymore. It can be disappointing to an artist, unless the art consumer has been illuminated on the subject matter even for just a few minutes. If the art piece tells a story, arouses a memory, a sensation, then right there, art has served a longer purpose and meaning.

      If it’s public art, then the art never really is “stale” since there’s always going to people seeing it for the first time.

      Your caricatures and comics can be your voice, in some cases your instrument of changing perspective just like a song writer can use lyrics and music to reach a very broad audience to convey a message and sensation if they wish.

      Look forward to more perspectives from you since you are one of the rare comic/caricature illustrators I chat up about art.

      Yes, on my way to normality. Still working from home as mentioned earlier in this thread until the end of the summer due to flood damage to office building.

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  8. Jean, this is an amazing story. How wonderful that you were photographing this great art. I knew about the flood; I didn’t realize how much you were impacted by it. I always enjoy your stories of neighborhood, but this is an exceptional tribute to creative folks and being able to adapt to a major crisis.

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    • The murals and artistic team do deserve greater exposure. I’m am glad you dropped by to visit, composergarden. You would have found kinship with these artists.

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  9. What amazing art in a public space. I wish there was more of this in the cities in Australia, especially when it transforms the mundane into something so remarkable.

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  10. What amazing murals! I had no idea that they were there. I’ll have to go looking for them next time we’re in Calgary. Like you, I think it’s terribly sad that they will only be there such a short time.

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