Kindness after the fire

Anyone who pays attention to social media will have seen hundreds of posts about random acts of kindness that have happened during and after the evacuation of Fort McMurray.  In my case, it is these stories that bring on the tears, tales of compassion and generosity that punctuate how events like #ymmfire can and do bring out the best in people.  A number of our team shared moments that stand out for them, as did a number of neighbours who entered a contest on our Facebook page.  Here are a few of them.

“The first thing that comes to mind for me is the United Ways,” said Diane Shannon, Executive Director. “Having Anne here at my back is unbelievable and the entire teams that rallied across the country was unbelievable. Oh dear, I am tearing up just thinking about it, not sure if I can write it yet. There are a million small moments from that very first evening to every excursion replacing toiletries and clothes, and the gifts of bags of clothes and shoes to tide us over.”

Diane and several colleagues have been working in office space provided by United Way Capital Region in Edmonton. Other United Way colleagues, particularly one amazing team in Ottawa, have been instrumental in getting the campaign off the ground just days after our displacement.

One of our employees that lost her home in the fire is Hanna Fridhed. Despite losing everything, she jumped right into the recovery and rebuilding effort within days of getting temporary accommodation in Edmonton.

“The kindness and generosity I have encountered since evacuating Fort McMurray has been immense and extremely touching; hugs, words of encouragement, discounts and offers from near and far of housing and aid,” she said. “This entire experience has been lined with compassion, but a couple of moments stand out. The first is the open arms with which the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region welcomed us into their space. We have been not been treated as colleagues, but as family. The second is Sarah – a woman I spoke briefly with at a benefit concert a week ago. I mentioned my wardrobe having been reduced to ash, but that the donated clothes made for an interesting collection. A few days later, she showed up at the office with two black bags filled to the brim with clothes, shoes and accessories. Peoples’ kindness has touched my heart.”

Pavlina Vaverka is working remotely during this evacuation. She shared a number of touching moments that stood out for her.

“We have witnessed kindness everywhere,from family and friends, as well as local businesses,” she shared. “I think what has stood out for me the most is two things: first is that a friend/acquaintance from high school that I have not seen in about 14 years reached out to me through Facebook and offered my family a place to stay in Calgary; it really blew me away as I would have never expected that!

“Hearing all the various radio stations talking about the fundraising efforts and services set-up for evacuees has made my heart happy, all the signs that businesses have displayed with kind words and support, and even for me, the town hall meetings. Those folks have been answering the same questions over and over and every time they answer with such respect and patience!”

“The other is not so much a moment of kindness but more a moment of realization,” she began. I am from BC. I would say that in my heart I have always hoped that someday we would call Vancouver Island home again. What I have come to the realization of is that between the floods a couple years ago, where I had my first glimpse of #AlbertaStrong, especially when I think of the Stampede that year and their “Hell or High water” slogan and seeing what everyone did to get all those areas affected back to normal, to our very own apocalypse, I have truly been proud of the #AlbertaStrong spirit. It’s infectious and through this catastrophe I have felt for the first time that Alberta is home and that this province truly stands together through thick and thin. I believe being Fort McMurray strong is just a regular day for all of us as we have truly witnessed what our community is capable of for many years. “The Beast” came and ravaged our town and even though there was, and still is, so much uncertainty, I always felt like Fort McMurray and Alberta had a special kind of folk, the kind that would help their neighbour and that makes me feel like we’re going to be alright.”

“One more important one: my brother has his own business: TOMDOTCOM in Vancouver. A day or so after we settled at Cam’s aunt’s home he told me that he had donated $1,000 to the Canadian Red Cross with his business and had contacted his clients and employees and encouraged them to donate, too. He has employees that work remotely for him in Belgrade, in Europe and they have sent me emails of encouragement when they donated money; that was pretty amazing!”

Former United Way Resource Development Coordinator, Jen Kennett, shared two highlights on our Facebook page.

“Two that stick out most in my mind: our first night of evacuation, a man at the camp we arrived at picked us out of the crowd of evacuees and helped us get dinner and ice cream for the children. As we were finishing up, he found us again and offered up his room to our family. We managed to find a place to sleep, but that kindness really helped us through that night.”

“The second one would be the following morning when we made the decision to drive south but only had about 120 kms in the tank. We stopped by a business on the highway (I don’t know if I should name it) and I asked one of the workers if they could please give us some fuel. Though his supervisor was hesitant, they said yes and filled our gas tank and windshield wash while wishing us safe travels.”

Sherry Duncan, another former United Way staffer, shared this kindness.

“Plamondon White Sands Resort has provided lunch and supper, food and clothing, comfort and care for the last two weeks,” she said. “I will never be able to repay their kindness.”

There were so many great stories of kindness that were shared on our Facebook page promoting the opportunity to win tickets to the Beyoncé concert in Edmonton. The winner of the 4 tickets was Kory Lowden. He shared this story.

“My family and I were at the gas station in Fort MacKay the Wednesday after having to head north. We had just enough gas to get there. After spending a few hours in a camp we knew we needed gas. After realizing that the gas station was not going to open but the card lot was still working I started asking people if I could offer them cash so we could fill up and we could get down south to safety. Finally someone allowed us to fill up using his company card but then refused to take anything from us in return. ‘We are all Canadians; we help each other out. It’s what we do.’ was the response he told me. My pregnant wife was in tears, gave the man a hug and our 20 month old waved thank you to the man and we were able to head south with a full tank of gas. That was such an amazing gesture that we will always remember.”

Stories of kindness are always great to share, but especially so during this extraordinary time in Alberta history when so many lives have been disrupted and homes destroyed.


Author: Russell Thomas

​Russell is a marketing and communications professional who has spent 20 years in Wood Buffalo working with the OK Radio Group, Keyano College, Arts Council Wood Buffalo, and now with The United Way of Fort McMurray. A regular blogger, Russell's writing can be seen online ( and in multiple publications. His paintings can be seen in homes and businesses throughout the community. Married to Heather and "Papa" to Dylan and Ben, Russell is a passionate spokesperson for United Way.