Off the record: With disaster comes great solidarity

The story of the Fort McMurray fire is absolutely horrific. But it gets better.

The stories are absolutely horrific in many cases. In a matter of hours, what was once a life filled with memories made in the homes of some 80,000 people was erased into mere ashes.

Homes were lost, pets and animals were displaced or worse, died in the blaze and people were forced to flee everything they knew to a land of the uncertainty.

Yet, in this time of misery, there emerged an element that unites us all when a tragedy of this nature occurs. It becomes manifest in the 500 children who have been welcomed with open arms to schools in the Calgary area or the hundreds of cars waiting alongside the highway offering to take in those who have nowhere to go. Who can forget about the hundreds of firefighters who have come from across the country to fight the fire in hopes of preserving some remnant of people’s lives.

In many ways, these acts of solidarity fall under one common term: being a Canadian. This isn’t to say that other countries don’t have this strong national identity. There’s no doubt that patriotism is still stronger than ever south of the border in the United States. However, there’s a certain Canadian-ness to it that truly makes it ours.

At times, this Canadian element can be hard to put your finger on with everyday life consuming you, dividing you along a political spectrum or tying you to a favourite sports team. In times of disaster, it’s all-surrounding. Look around the valley and you’ll see the donation bins in grocery stores, the local Home Hardware and commercials reminding you that you can send your help from the couch with the click of a few buttons. To date, $54 million has been donated to Red Cross to support Fort McMurray, which is nearly $2 per Canadian citizen.

Fortunately, this isn’t the first disaster where the country has united to help one another. In 2000, people from across the province of Ontario and the country at large joined together in providing the town of Walkerton the supplies they needed when their water was infected with the deadly E-coli bacteria.

Let’s not forget the people of Gander, Newfoundland who put their lives on hold during the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 to take in thousands of people whose flights were grounded in Canada because the U.S shut down its air space. Schools, fire stations and church halls were filled with cots in many of the same ways, as they are today in communities throughout Alberta to support the people of Fort McMurray.

It’s these times of disaster and tragedy when Canadians drop everything to help one another. We set aside our differences, our quarrels and identities and ask the simple, yet crucial, internal question, “What can I do to help?” It’s what makes Canada one of the best countries to live in across the world, according to Reputation Institute’s annual ranking of countries by perceived image.

The sad reality is that it’s going to take a months or even years before the people of Fort McMurray are able to return to what most would call a normal life. They’ll likely never be able to forget what was taken from them so abruptly. But with the help of everyday Canadians from across the country, the people of Fort McMurray have a foundation to put their lives back together once again.