This post was originally published May 3, 2021 in Medium. It is provided below in its entity.
When I last thought about memorializing Abasand, I was mere months from experiencing one of the more traumatic events in my life. I had been evacuated, I had returned, I had walked around charred remains of my house and neighbourhood covered in white tactifier that mixed with the ash and rust to transform a once vibrant landscape into blinding black, brown, and white. I visited the wreckage of my old home, I picked through the remains, I found what I thought might be mementos — a handmade tea pot, warped silverware, rusting stainless-steel pots and pans — and I carefully placed them into a Rubbermaid bin, saved them for another day.
Everything in the bin was spared being scooped out by the backhoe then plowed under by the bulldozer which came through the neighbourhood days later. The warped and bent remains soon became all that was left as the void became a rush with motion, as Abasanders tried to put their lives back together one rebuild at a time. While this process was easier and more exciting for some than others, soon the desolation was built over and people’s houses once again became homes.
While the neighbourhood was reborn, it was not the same. Neighbours came and went; new homes replaced many (but not all) of the gritty overpriced fourplexes and duplexes that gave the community its character. Scattered empty lots reminded everyone that not everything had proceeded as planned.
Some returnees refilled their homes with new mementoes and memories, eager to move on from the trauma of scrutinizing old photographs to create contents lists for insurance companies. While many were undoubtedly grateful to be provided the opportunity to start over, circumstance and life did not always make that possible. Many remained frozen in a moment that seemingly lasted forever, while others started again, finding hope as life moved beyond the fire.
Now, five years later I reflect on all of the above. I look back on those contents lists created by remembering things as they were. I am surrounded by the new things I bought to replace the old ones, understanding many of these new things would never be the same. I remember those times wandering the streets in Edmonton, lost and unsure as I processed what happened. I also remember the opportunity that the lost and unsure wandering brought to me as I found love and family that I’m not sure would have ever come to me in a forty-year-old Abasand duplex.
So five years later, I reflect on what I took, and what I left behind. I pull out my Rubbermaid bin and spend a long time looking at what remains of 252 Athabasca Drive: the handmade tea pot, warped silverware, and rusting stainless-steel pots and pans. I’m left not thinking about what was, but rather what has become, and how all these artifacts — damaged, but still here — contributed to what I am today. And though I have changed in ways I cannot fully explain, the charred remains I took, and those I left behind, have made today possible.
Peter with the contents of his Rubbermaid Bin and Jacob and Patrick, May 2021. To see some of the pictures of