An embrace at a barbecue in Spruce Grove. Photo: Munya Mataruse
As northerners flee to different Canadian cities, residents in neighbouring provinces are welcoming evacuees with warm hugs – and food.
One such host is Cynthia Mufandaedza-Moyo, a former City of Yellowknife council member who organized a barbecue for NWT evacuees at Spruce Grove’s Jubilee Park.
“Randy and l felt it was important to get the community together,” she said, referring to her husband, “for hugs and to just check on each other … some people were having a hard time.”
Besides Yellowknife, where 20,000 residents were forced to leave their city, most residents of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Hay River, Enterprise and Fort Smith have also driven or been airlifted south to Alberta.
Mufandaedza-Moyo said she got a chance to meet evacuees from Yellowknife, Hay River, and Fort Smith. “They said they realized we were in this together when they saw people they knew,” she said.
Business owners like Signed’s Janet Pacey and realtor Kim Knutson were in attendance, while former NWT Commissioner George Tuccaro greeted residents.
“It was fantastic getting to see our neighbours and friends. It gave some reprieve to the stressful times and the unknown right now,” said Tara Travis, who evacuated from Yellowknife to St Albert. Both Spruce Grove and St Albert are on the western fringe of Edmonton.
Travis said events like this help take people’s minds off the NWT’s wildfire situation and bring peace during a difficult time. She said she “really loved the camaraderie amongst the crowd.”
Pacey volunteered to flip burgers at the gathering and expressed gratitude for the support she received after evacuating
“I was offered an empty house on 10 acres of land just outside of St Albert. I’m very well taken care of, I’ve got access to food and a washroom and a comfy bed. But I know there’s a lot of people that aren’t in such a good situation,” Pacey said.
“I can’t offer this place to anybody else, but I can offer to make people feel a little more comfortable.”
Pacey, who drove to St Albert with three dogs, said everywhere she stopped she found people she already knew. “It makes you feel like: Oh, I’m not in this situation alone,” she said.
Northerners, Pacey said, are a special breed – including those people, like her, who reside in Yellowknife but aren’t originally from the territory.
“We are joined by the fact that we have moved there … and made a huge change in our lives to be there,” she said.
Pacey has been living in Yellowknife for more than 30 years and considers the city her home.
“I would be devastated if it’s gone. But we all share that,” she said.