What Does Neighbour Day Mean to You?

Posted on June 17, 2023

This June marks the 10th anniversary of the floods that devastated many parts of southern Alberta, including Canmore, Calgary, High River, Siksika First Nation, and the Stoney Nakota First Nations, to name a few of the many communities affected. I still remember where I was when the rains went from “please stop raining” to “this is not going to be okay.” The city had already asked people to stay away from the river and were evacuating parts of the low-lying neighbourhoods, including downtown, as we watched our daughter’s little league game. The rain stopped just long enough for her team to win first place that year and then the sky opened up in a movie style we-snapped-the-last-photo-and-cue-the-pouring-rain moment. At that point we didn’t really know how bad it was only a few kilometers away, let alone outside the city, but as the night wore on, we realized this was not going to be a flood we’d ever experienced.

Though the devastation is not something to ignore, it is not what neighbour day is about. Neighbour day, celebrated on the third Saturday in June, is about celebrating the generous community spirit people showed after the rains stopped. Whether this was helping friends or strangers tackle a not-your-average clean-up of their homes, housing evacuated people, distributing food and supplies, or donating items for those that lost so much, neighbour day is a day to remember we are stronger together. The collective action people partook in, all over the affected areas, to help each other during this time was a beautiful thing to a part of. It is also a day to reflect on the Bow and Elbow rivers, what they mean to our region, and what we can do to protect our water systems. Nothing written here is to say,“if we had only done these few things, none of the 2013 flooding would have happened.” Far from it. The variables that led to 2013 are part of a complex system much larger than what can be broken down here. When something of that magnitude heads for your community, it is best to stay out of the path, let the professionals do their jobs, and be there to support those affected, after. But 2013 is not the first flood southern Alberta, or even Calgary, has endured. Millions of dollars have been spent to mitigate and protect areas along the floodplains, including the infrastructure built within these plains. Flooding can be localized to one’s yard or neighbourhood or as wide as what we saw in 2013. Southern Alberta, including Calgary, also suffers from the opposite extreme: drought. Both flooding and drought conditions put stress on our rivers, and both are something us living in this part of the province should be thinking about. Alberta is the driest province in Canada and Southern Alberta is the driest region of Alberta. Flooding doesn’t make this less true, nor does this truth make flooding less serious. To help with these realities, there are small, collective actions we too can take in our yards that help mitigation efforts for both flood and drought. 

1. Plant a drought resistant garden that covers a large portion, if not all, of your yard. Those of us with yards that face the blazing afternoon sun know the fool's effort it is trying to keep turf lawn green. Time and water wasted. Removing my grass and replacing it with drought resistant plants and mulch was the best decision I have ever made in my yard. Creating a native plant garden full of perennials will help to save water, hold the topsoil in place (add mulch to further support this, especially when your plants are young and still building a root system), allow space for rainwater to absorb into the ground water, and give you a beautiful yard to enjoy with half the maintenance. I only water my front yard once every 2 weeks, if it doesn’t rain.  

  1. 2. Water deep to encourage deep roots. Adding native plants and grasses, and then watering “low and slow” as they establish in your yard, will encourage deep root systems that require less watering, overall.  

  2. 3. Love that grass? Water early morning or in the evening to reduce water lost to evaporation. Also, don’t water the road/sidewalk. Instead of turning the sprinkler on high to cover as much area as possible, including the street gutters, keep the water spray low and move it around the yard a few times. This will ensure more of the water is actually hydrating the lawn. 

  3. 4. Capture rainwater. Purchase a rain barrel or two and harvest the rainwater pouring out of your down spout anyway. Use this to water indoor and outdoor plants. Not only do plants prefer rainwater, you aren’t using potable water on something that does not require it. Water use in your home can go up 30-40% in the summer from watering the yard. During the dryer parts of summer, this is 30-40% more water per household being pulled from a river that is already low. On the other hand, in times of access water flow, the water treatment plants work extra hard to keep up with treating and testing the water, while also ensuring they are ready to tackle potential flood-related emergencies without interrupting the city’s essential water supply. Rainwater capture also helps control access water from flooding your yard and lowers the amount of water rushing into the storm drains in heavy rain. It is then slowly distributed back into the ground water system when used in the yard. 

  4. 5. Be a good neighbour. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day, forgetting the spirit of collective action that helped put southern Alberta back together after the floods. I still remember sloshing over the carpet in a house that hadn’t been touched a week after the waters receded. It started with me and one other stranger tearing out drywall, and within 20 minutes, after a few tweets and texts from one of the volunteers organizing the clean-up efforts, there were a dozen of us helping the homeowner clear out their ruined basement so they could rebuild. If we keep up that spirit in our own neighbourhoods, notice the little things, like an injury preventing someone from shoveling their walk or letting a neighbour know their garage door has been left open. Being a good neighbour can be as simple as stopping to say hi, even to the grumpy guss, or sharing the plants you overbought. It doesn’t take much to let our neighbours know that, in case of emergency, we’ve got each other’s backs.