Healthy Living in the North

Checking in with a wildfire evacuee one year later: “How they treated me in Prince George, I just couldn’t believe it”

Three men, all evacuees from the Williams Lake Seniors' Village, pictured at the UNBC residences during the 2017 wildfires.

L – R: Keith McCreight, Gordon Woods, and Sture Kallman, all evacuees from the Williams Lake Seniors’ Village, pictured at the UNBC residences during the 2017 wildfires. Woods passed away earlier this year.

Sture Kallman has nothing but positive memories of his time as an evacuee during 2017’s wildfires. Kallman, 88, is a resident of Williams Lake Seniors Village, and was evacuated to Prince George last year along with other residents in mid-July 2017.

“I just about cried when I left Prince George because of how well you treated us,” said the former high-wire artist. “I met so many nice people, and you made us feel so good right from the very first minute we arrived there.”

Kallman was impressed with how the city coped with the influx of evacuees.

“I just couldn’t believe it, taking on 10,000 people. I couldn’t believe it could be done so wonderfully,” he said. “The mayors of Prince George and Williams Lake — they had a big load on their shoulders to carry, to be able to make decisions from day to day.”

He was impressed by the healthcare services he received as well, recalling how a doctor took the time to check on him at 11pm one night.

“I know the doctors were overworked with that tremendous increase of people, and especially when elderly people come, they need more attention,” he says. “When I left Prince George, I wished I could write a thank you letter to the people who looked after all of us and were so wonderful.”

A highlight of his time in Prince George was a trip to the circus with Brenda Schlesinger, a project manager at UNBC, who invited Kallman to attend with her family after learning he had worked as a high-wire performer in his youth.

Schlesinger also took Kallman to Aleza Lake, where he was able to savour “wonderful memories from when I worked there.”

“It was also great to see how the business people responded to the crisis, giving discounts to evacuees,” he added. “I just couldn’t believe how good it could be. I also enjoyed the wonderful entertainments every night.”

Evacuations are not planned for Williams Lake this year, but Kallman says, “If I was evacuated again, I would love to come back to Prince George – they treated us like kings!”

He was happy to return home to Williams Lake Seniors Village after the 2017 fire season was over.

“It was so nice to come home and I was really proud of the people here, how well they looked after everything,” he said. “They did a tremendous job of it, and they made us feel really welcome back, they made us feel really at home.”

After returning home, Kallman had hip surgery in Kamloops and is now walking a little. “Every day, I feel improvement,” he said.

Kallman, who will be 89 on September 25th, attributes his health and longevity to hard physical work and describes moving to Canada from Sweden as “the best thing I ever did.”

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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