'With open arms': How an inn is helping evacuees from Jean Marie River

·4 min read
Annette Mason, centre, helps evacuees from Jean Marie River at the front desk of the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence, N.W.T. (Travis Burke/CBC - image credit)
Annette Mason, centre, helps evacuees from Jean Marie River at the front desk of the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence, N.W.T. (Travis Burke/CBC - image credit)

Annette Mason and the staff at Fort Providence's Snowshoe Inn in Northwest Territories started preparing for possible flooding evacuees on May 7, when reports of flooding started coming from nearby Jean Marie River.

By Saturday night, it was "all hands on deck" for Mason, two volunteer staff and the handful of housekeepers at the inn, as evacuees started rolling in at all hours of the night.

"We just had to welcome them with open arms," Mason, the hotel's manager, told CBC.

Donation boxes in the lobby of the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence, N.W.T.
Donation boxes in the lobby of the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence, N.W.T.(Anna Desmarais/CBC)

All but two of the hotel's rooms are taken up by residents of Jean Marie River, the community hardest hit by this year's spring flooding. Leadership in the community says the majority of their homes are damaged or destroyed from high water levels along with a fuel leak.

It's left many residents wondering if they'll have a community to go back to.

The first ones

The first people to walk through the Snowshoe's doors were Shaylyn and Kierstyn Hope, along with their mother Donna. The girls, aged 12 and 9 respectively, saw the waters rising from their quad. So, they told Stanley Sanguez, the chief, and the community's SAO about what they found.

After that, it was a mad rush to get out.

Kierstyn Hope, left, and Shaylyn Hope, right, talk about how they found some of the first signs of high water levels at their home in Jean Marie River, N.W.T.
Kierstyn Hope, left, and Shaylyn Hope, right, talk about how they found some of the first signs of high water levels at their home in Jean Marie River, N.W.T. (Travis Burke/CBC)

"We packed our bags but there wasn't enough time because the water was moving really, really fast," Shaylyn said. "We only packed one more outfit than what we had on."

That first night, the girls stayed with their family at Kelly Lake, an evacuee camp at kilometre 374 on the highway to Fort Providence. They decided to come to the hotel because everyone "really needed a shower," according to Shaylyn.

Kierstyn Hope, front, and Shaylyn Hope, back, play with their dog Hunter behind the Snowshoe hotel.
Kierstyn Hope, front, and Shaylyn Hope, back, play with their dog Hunter behind the Snowshoe hotel. (Travis Burke/CBC )

The girls spend their days playing with their husky Hunter, getting ice cream from Northmart and going to the local park. They also make time to visit their family on the second floor.

"I feel really comfortable here, because all our family's here," Shaylyn said. "And it feels like normal home," Kierstyn added.

'Everything is all gone'

To start their day, guests at the hotel cross the street to the Snowshoe's cafe. There, they can choose from a variety of breakfast foods on the menu for free, because their meals are being covered.

Carla Norwegian, along with her partner and three children, were among those eating at the cafe. The flood didn't spare anything in her home.

Carla Norwegian, centre, eats lunch with her three kids at the Snowshoe Cafe. Their family lost everything in the flood.
Carla Norwegian, centre, eats lunch with her three kids at the Snowshoe Cafe. Their family lost everything in the flood. (Travis Burke/CBC )

"The waterline … just touched the bottom of our cupboards, so maybe like five feet in the house," she said. "Everything [is] all gone," she said.

For evacuees like the Norwegians, the hotel started a small pile of donations in the boardroom. The items come from all over the place, but mostly from the local northern store and families from Fort Providence that have extra to give.

A small donation pile has started in the hotel's basement for anyone needing fresh clothes after the flood.
A small donation pile has started in the hotel's basement for anyone needing fresh clothes after the flood. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

'What happened here is a tragedy'

The hotel lobby, now the local gathering place for the community, is bustling. All day long, volunteers, guests and staff are coming in. They bring all kinds of stuff with them: clothing donations, fresh bannock and art supplies for the kids.

Melaine Norwegian, left, shares a laugh with other evacuees from Jean Marie River in the hotel lobby.
Melaine Norwegian, left, shares a laugh with other evacuees from Jean Marie River in the hotel lobby. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Most of the guests are splitting their time during the day between the hotel and going back to the community to survey the damage.

Hence the sign "please remove muddy boots" at the door.

Staff put up a sign asking people to take off their muddy shoes. Many of the guests are travelling between Providence and Jean Marie River to check on their homes.
Staff put up a sign asking people to take off their muddy shoes. Many of the guests are travelling between Providence and Jean Marie River to check on their homes.(Travis Burke/CBC)

Melaine Norwegian was waiting for a ride back home when she shared her story.

She said everyone's just trying to "pull themselves together" in the immediate aftermath of the flood.

"I'm grateful that everybody from all directions are pulling together to help us," she said. "What happened here is a tragedy for everyone."

CBC News hasn't been able to reach anyone in Jean Marie River, but in a post on Facebook Paul Thunder-Stealer says the community is not fine amid flooding from the Mackenzie River breakup.
CBC News hasn't been able to reach anyone in Jean Marie River, but in a post on Facebook Paul Thunder-Stealer says the community is not fine amid flooding from the Mackenzie River breakup. (Paul Thunder-Stealer/Facebook)

When the hotel gave the Hope girls art supplies, they drew a thank you card for Mason and the Snowshoe staff on behalf of the whole Jean Marie River family.

Annette Mason holds up the card that the Hope sisters made for the staff of the Snowshoe Inn.
Annette Mason holds up the card that the Hope sisters made for the staff of the Snowshoe Inn. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Just talking about it makes Mason emotional.

"It really touched my heart," she said. "These are the things that make everything worthwhile."

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