The River Café is a rustic oasis with one of the most beautiful patios to ever grace a Canadian restaurant. Whether you are seated indoors or out on the patio, you have amazing views of the verdant gardens and the beautiful blue green Bow River as it slips quietly by. The dulcet setting is only the beginning; exceptionally competent service is there to compliment the most important guest — the food.
It’s hard to believe that just three months ago, the River Café came very close to being shut down by the worst flood in living memory.
In the days leading up to June 20th 2013, heavy rainfall across Alberta caused water levels to rise until finally, the deluge could no longer be contained. Rivers broke their beleaguered banks and flooded homes and businesses.
In the city of Calgary a rather remarkable restaurant, the River Café, calls the tiny island of Prince’s Park its home. When the Bow River rose, the entire island was submerged and the upper floors of the restaurant were all that could be seen above the waterline. Water poured into the lowers levels of the restaurant and brought with it the mud and mayhem of the flood. Now, three months later and thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers, the River Café is restored, revitalized and stronger than ever.
Owner Sal Howell is pragmatic about the tragedy: “I feel so lucky that it was only the cellars and basements that suffered damage. I had to ride my bike to the restaurant, and along the way I saw people who had lost their homes, they had lost everything. I felt fortunate.”
Despite Sal’s irrepressible optimism, the restaurant suffered tragic losses with 2500 bottles of wine lost from the cellars, some vintages dating back to 1946.
“We evacuated on Thursday and when we were finally allowed back in on Monday, the force of the water had blown open the fridges and freezers. There was an entire lamb carcass and an enormous octopus floating among the debris and rotting food,” said Sal.
For Sal, it’s the support from the community that made this tragedy so remarkable.
“We had help bringing all the bottles of wine up from the cellar,” said Sal. “Each had to be identified and inventoried. Friends were worked 4 eight-hour days just to make that possible.”
Other people from the service community dropped by with beers and food and helped haul the mud and rotting food out and over the bridge where it could be safely disposed of.
The local government acted quickly to restore the causeway and electricity, but all of the appliances needed to be repaired or replaced.
“It was 26 days before we could wash the dishes,” said Sal, “It took that long to restore power to all parts of the building. The mud and debris were so toxic, but for me the worst thing was the mosquitoes. The whole island had been turned into a swamp and the mosquitoes were relentless.”
Sal’s losses and her insistence that staff payroll be honoured tally well over a million dollars by now, but it’s all been worth it as her beloved River Café is restored to its former glory and its staff seem stronger and closer for having triumphed.
Intoxicating views, warm atmosphere, competent staff and incredible food and wine combine to make the River Café one of the most memorable meals I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I strongly suggest you do the same.
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