Couple feels lucky despite loss of 102-year-old house (February 7, 2014)

Written by Val Fortney

Published by Calgary Herald on Friday, February 7, 2014

When she woke up early Thursday morning, Mona Hayes was apprehensive about going back to the Erlton house she’s loved for the past nine years.

“It had so much character,” she says of her one-and-a-half-storey built in 1912. “It was a great little house, in a great community.”

Still, she knew she wanted to be here to witness its demolition, as a way of “moving forward and focusing on the good things.”

As the jagged jaws from an excavator chomp down on what eight months ago were her living room walls, she smiles through her tears as she melts in to a full bear hug from husband John Hayes.

“Yes, it’s very sad to see it go down,” says the 49-year-old hair stylist and jewelry designer as she stands on the sidewalk in one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. “But I’m a lucky girl. I feel like I won the lottery.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Shane Bevans of Christian relief and development organization Samaritan’s Purse.

“She really did win the lottery,” says Bevans, who is also present on this chilly morning to witness the demolition of the old house, a job being done free of charge by Calgary company Bluebird Excavating and Demolition. “In eight months from now, Mona and John will be moving into a brand new house.”

The complete rebuild of the Hayes’ inner-city home is the first of its kind post-flood for Samaritan’s Purse (samaritanspurse.ca), an organization that has been at the forefront since the June day that devastated entire communities throughout southern Alberta.

Mere hours after the angry waters wreaked destruction from Canmore to Siksika Nation, teams of volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse were tearing down drywall and hauling mud-filled debris; through the fall and winter, they have continued their mission, working on numerous house fixes and renovations. Through its southern Alberta Restoration Project, it hopes to help even more people over the coming year.

On this horribly frigid winter’s day, the work forges on with the quick and efficient help of Bluebird. The eight-month project will result in a new house, a little bigger than the previous home that will also include much-needed flood mitigation features.

“It’s a dream to have this happen to us,” says Hayes, who bought the house in 2005. She married John in 2012. “I had been going through a hard time and when I met John, it was the start of a new, much happier chapter in my life,” she says.

That happy chapter took a decidedly bad turn on June 20. Like so many others, Mona found herself with mere minutes to grab a few personal items and put some cherished photo albums on higher ground.

“We had moved our car across the street,” she says with a weary laugh. “Then I realized I’d left the car keys in the house, which was already under water.”

Prodded by a friend to attend a post-flood event in July, Mona, who with John was now living in a rented basement suite, told her story to city councillor Gian-Carlo Carra and his assistant Lindsay Luhnau. Before she knew it, she was in conversations with representatives from Samaritan’s Purse thanks to Luhnau.

“I kept waiting for them to call me back and say, ‘Wait, there’s been a mistake,’ ” says Hayes, who got no help from her insurance company and received about $35,000 from the province’s disaster relief program. “We don’t make much money between the two of us, so if this hadn’t happened, I don’t know where we would be.”

On this day, she’s here to say a final farewell to a modest but much-loved old house on a street where abandoned homes and For Sale signs are plentiful.

“Bye bye bathroom,” she says with a chuckle, before confiding “they saved my claw foot tub — it’ll go in the new house.”

With just a few cherished items from her house, she’s determined to move forward with a positive attitude, heavily sprinkled with gratitude.

“I’ve done my grieving,” says Hayes of what started out as a nightmare but has been transformed into something entirely different.

“We had resigned ourselves to the fact there was nothing that could be done,” she says with a gentle smile. “Now, we have so much to look forward to.”

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

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