On June 5, 2024, the Bearspaw South water main suffered a critical break, leaving thousands of residents in the northwest areas of Bowness and Montgomery without access to clean water. This major water line supplies water to different distribution points in the city, affecting not only these neighbourhoods but the entire city of Calgary and some surrounding areas. The City of Calgary declared a local state of emergency on June 15, asking residents and businesses to reduce their water use for the next 3-5 weeks as the main is repaired.

The initial uncertainty of repair timelines added to the worry and stress, particularly throughout Bowness and Montgomery. But during this water crisis, the Bowness Community Association (BCA) stands strong, with unwavering support from local agencies, volunteers, and United Way of Calgary and Area’s Community Hubs team. The BCA, powered by United Way’s Community Hubs Initiative, coordinated an extraordinary response that showcases the power of community resilience and unity, and demonstrating how collective action can lessen the impact of such a major disruption.

The power of community

The BCA quickly responded to the need for clean drinking water in its community by providing funds from the Community Hubs Emergency Budget to purchase water. The Hubs team also allocated $2,000 for the BCA to purchase refillable 20L water containers to support families who are struggling to afford water. They delivered 80 water containers at the BCA, addressing the urgent need as residents were returning for water with small 500ml bottles. The Hubs team provided an additional $500 to support the BCA team and volunteers, acknowledging their extensive hours and the effects of managing a community crisis.

This crisis also identified a communications gap, with many members of the community – newcomer and native English speakers, alike – thinking the water boil advisory was merely a safety suggestion, as opposed to an urgent need. United Way connected with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) to alert them to these challenges and the Hubs team continues to coordinate with the BCA and CEMA to help resolve communication issues.

Abby Vadeboncoeur, Bowness Hubs Site Lead, with Janneth Mayorga, Community Hubs Liaison.

Abby Vadeboncoeur, Bowness Hubs Site Lead, with Janneth Mayorga, Community Hubs Liaison.

Bowness Community Centre

Bowness Community Centre

Community Hub’s Vision Comes to Life

Community Hubs is a city-wide initiative that provides access to vital support and services and turns strangers into friends. Its vision is alive at Bowness, as the BCA serves as a major connection point for residents, community partners/agencies, the City of Calgary, and anyone who needs support during this crisis. They received support from numerous volunteers and volunteer associations, who donated water and helped with water deliveries.

“It was incredible to see what was happening at BCA,” said Janneth Mayorga, Community Hubs Liaison at United Way. “Many individuals and more than 20 volunteer groups came forward with their support, and the BCA soon became a donation site for water and a pick-up location for city water trucks, ensuring residents had access to clean water. The BCA started a ‘Water Buddies’ system and created a helpline for residents needing assistance with water delivery.”

Water Buddies encourages neighbours to help and care for each other. Considering that many senior residents of the community can’t pick up water themselves, the BCA provided a water helpline, where they can call and be added to a delivery list. Two daily water runs deliver water midday and in the evening, with the goal of delivering water within five hours of it being requested. Thanks to an influx of volunteers, there are people at every stage of the water distribution process, from receiving donations to delivering water to residents.

The ongoing efforts in Bowness have seen support from all over the city, with community groups like the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen Calgary donating and distributed groceries from the BCA hub site.

United Way gratefully acknowledges the support extended by all the volunteers and volunteer groups below, and the anonymous donations to provide water to the Bowness Community Association:

  • Agnew Insurance
  • Angels Diner
  • Attabotics
  • The City of Calgary
  • Dashmesh Cultural Centre
  • Food Bank
  • Guru Nanak Free Kitchen Calgary
  • Home Depot
  • Hubs
  • KFC
  • North Water
  • Rock Glacier Water
  • Stormtech
  • Village Square Hub

Reflections and Learnings

Reflecting on the experience, the Hubs team emphasized the importance of community-centred responses and the role of Hubs in acting swiftly during emergencies.

“It’s not outside of our responsibility to care for one another and to care for our community. This crisis reinforced the value of the work we do and the importance of being prepared to react to community needs as they arise,” says Mayorga.

Maria Topolnyski, Manager of the Community Hubs Initiative echoed these sentiments, noting the flexibility and trust within United Way and the Hubs initiative that allowed for immediate and effective action.

“People at the Canadian Tire store asked us what we were doing, and when we explained that we were purchasing water containers to help the Bowness community residents, they started helping us load our cars,” says Topolnyski. “When we showed up at Bowness, we ran into a resident who gave us big hugs as she was overwhelmed to see the support. We realized that however small our contribution may be, people responded to the gesture. They felt grateful knowing that the community cares for them.”

The response to the Bowness water main break is a testament to the strength and resilience of the community and the power of kindness.

Community Hubs is a partnership between United Way of Calgary and Area and The City of Calgary, with Rotary Clubs of Calgary as a founding partner. Support from our community fuels these welcoming and inclusive spaces where residents go to make friends, pursue common interests, and find support in times of need. Learn more about the Community Hubs Initiative and find a location near you today and make a difference by supporting United Way’s Community Impact Fund.

Learn More about the Community Hubs Initiative