Fires, ferrets and a favourite fish

Among all the evacuees who came to the Super 8 Leduc, near Edmonton airport, general manager Sharon Lewis noticed one little girl who seemed to be faring poorly and acting distraught.

Sharon Lewis

Sharon Lewis

LEDUC, Alta. — Among all the evacuees who came to the Super 8 Leduc, near Edmonton airport, general manager Sharon Lewis noticed one little girl who seemed to be faring poorly. From the time she walked in the door,  with her mom, dad, brother, their dog and their cat, Lewis could tell she was distraught. 

It turns out she still thought they could go back to Fort Mac to get her fish.

Lewis called the local Pet Valu and told them about the situation, and that night at 7 p.m., a woman walked in the door of the hotel with a goldfish.

“The little girl came out, and I have never seen so many tears and smiles. She was a whole new person. She talked to that fish and told it all about her big adventure,” Lewis said.

The family’s fish, dog and cat were not the only pets to be found in the crush of guests that descended on the hotel starting just hours after the mandatory evacuation order. 

“I had 38 pet rooms — instantly,” said Lewis. “We had dogs, cats, ferrets and birds. Usually I have one floor of pet rooms — about 10 rooms. Even the Jacuzzi suite had pets.”

The people who started arriving on May 3 had spent hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

“I had so much compassion for them. When I said I had a room for them, they would burst into tears. It really makes you think about what’s important. I will never complain about the colour of my living room again.”

Unfortunately, by 10 a.m. May 4, Lewis had to start turning people away. She knew that if Leduc was full, Edmonton was full too. She had a staff member determine what was available in Camrose, Alta., three quarters of an hour’s drive to the southeast, and sent the evacuees there.

“The communities so came together,” said Lewis. “There were donation stations everywhere — we had one in our lobby. Pet Valu came through with cat food, dog food, litter and carrier cases.”

While Microtel offers complimentary continental breakfast, the breakfast area only seats 13 people. “We had to get some emergency supplies,” Lewis said.

At press time in late May, the local A&W was still offering a free meal to those who could show Fort McMurray I.D. Tish’s fashions and finery in Camrose offered free dresses on Mother’s Day.  

And another group gathered and sorted grad dresses so the students from Fort Mac would have something to wear to their graduation.

“We are an airport location, and we were basically housing people until flights were available to take them somewhere else. The guests weren’t long term, but we did have evacuees for a good two weeks,” Lewis said.

She added that her staff responded very, very well. If a guest left on a 9 p.m. flight, the cleaning staff would come in and make up the room so that they could resell it. “The staff was incredible, working every day without days off to make it happen.”

At press time, there were still a few guests waiting to go back to Fort Mac.

“It’s almost over now,” Lewis said. “One of our other properties in Fort Mac, the Best Canadian Motor Inn, received a call saying they could go back.”

But as the evacuees return, they still face a daunting task, dealing with buildings that have been without power or hydro for weeks, the smoke damage, rancid refrigerators and coolers and more.