Three years after flooding destroyed thousands of properties across southern Alberta, a colourful new playground stands outside a brightly restored school in High River.

Where twisted metal, broken branches, thick mud and debris covered the area in 2013, children now swing happily between new play structures at Holy Spirit Academy. Funded by the Canadian Red Cross community grants program and other sponsors, the playground offers a lot of unique features, not only for students but the entire community, said Jacquie Williamson, a parent council member who spearheaded the project.

High River Playground Opening

A new school playground has opened in High River to benefit the entire community affected by flooding in 2013. Photo credit: J. Keith Howie 

“When the design for this space began, we had a few important goals,” Williamson explained. “We wanted to meet the needs of the children, but also the community. We wanted a space that was really inclusive because the floods hit this town particularly hard and there weren’t a lot of free spaces where people could come together, and certainly not many that were fully accessible.”

The new playground contains specially-designed equipment and a heavily cushioned surface that makes it accessible for the disabled. It also provides exercise options for adults.

At a recent ceremony to officially open the playground, school principal Dorothy White said the new space represented the “last piece” of the academy’s rebuilding process.

Thanks to Canadian Red Cross donors and other supporters of the playground project, White said “people’s hard work and very generous contributions to this park made it a reality.”

Jenn McManus, vice-president of Alberta operations for Red Cross, told students:  “I really hoped to see this place filled with laughter and children again, because I remember three years ago, it was very different here...  And now, this is much more than a playground. It brings the community together again. Thank you for letting us be a part of your new beginning.”

The playground is one of 104 community initiatives supported by Red Cross in areas affected by the southern Alberta floods of 2013.

Along with the new play area, White said the school was almost completely rebuilt after floodwaters reached more than two metres high in the building. Pointing to a wooden crucifix in the school’s atrium, White showed a dark line across the back where murky waters stained it.

“After the water retreated, we came in here and tried to salvage what we could, which was almost nothing,” White remembered. “Now, I feel like we’ve come full circle. The school is not only restored but renewed better than before, especially with more of a community focus, and we’re so happy and truly thankful.”

In June 2013, severe flooding forced thousands of people to flee their homes and caused extensive damage across southern Alberta. Red Cross raised $45 million for this disaster and continues to help people and communities along their long road to recovery.