The CFL is gearing up to celebrate a weekend of football in Halifax, but those arriving in town know that local residents have much bigger concerns than whether Truro’s own Brett Lauther will kick a game-winning rouge on Saturday.
“I want to say that our thoughts are with the families affected by the flooding,” Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson told the media shortly after arriving for Touchdown Atlantic.
“We know there have been some tough times out here and just want folks in Nova Scotia to know we’re thinking about them, and we certainly wish them healing and peace with all the tragedy that’s happened.”
Nova Scotia has been in a state of emergency since July 22, after the province experienced its worst torrential downpour in 50 years. Nearly 10 inches of rainfall descended on the region in a 24-hour period, wiping out roads and causing flash flooding.
At its peak, the storm knocked out power for 80,000 people and placed hundreds under evacuation orders. There was also a devastating loss of life as three people, including two children, drowned while evacuating from Brooklyn, N.S. — roughly three hours from Halifax. A fourth person, a youth under the age of 18, remains missing.
In the wake of that tragedy, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie believes the league’s arrival came at just the right time.
“When we got to the market earlier this week, we had a conversation with the Red Cross and we asked them how we could help. The Argos and the Riders and the league did that together,” Ambrosie said during an event at Adsum House, a shelter for women and children.
“What they’ve said to us is that there’s been such a fantastic amount of work done by the first responder groups, by the RCMP, by the Fire and Rescue, by health care. All of them have done so much and what they’ve asked us to do is to shout out a thanks to everyone who has contributed to helping get this region through what has been a very difficult period of time. We’re going to take that role and responsibility seriously and be grateful for all of that.”
The flooding is just the latest in a string of natural disasters to rock the province. Nova Scotia was battered by Hurricane Fiona last year and endured the largest wildfire season in its history in May and June, with 18,000 people forced to evacuate as almost 60,000 acres burned.
While the CFL’s stay in Atlantic Canada has been shortened compared to last year’s full week of events, Ambrosie believes their community outreach and initiatives will help uplift Nova Scotian. He cited the Purolator Tackle Hunger food drive as one of the ways they will be giving back on game day, as well as a donation by partner OK Tire to go towards local amateur football.
With the league still pushing towards the goal of an expansion franchise in the region, these are the types of benefits that citizens can expect if and when the CFL becomes engrained in the city.
“Like everywhere we go, this is what the CFL does so well. The reason to watch is it’s fun, fast and entertaining; the reason to care is we’re really good in the community,” Ambrosie stressed.
“We’re just trying to show the city and the region that this is what the CFL is. We’re really interested in helping make the community better and stronger.”
Kickoff in the Touchdown Atlantic clash between the Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. local time on Saturday, July 29. A soldout crowd of 11,555 is expected to fill the temporarily expanded stands on the campus of Saint Mary’s University, including many from out of town who will help uplift the area both economically and spiritually.
“It’s just the atmosphere that this league has a really good habit of creating,” Ambrosie said. “All of the people that are going to come from all over Canada to be part of Touchdown Atlantic tomorrow and part of this weekend, there’s always a great energy that comes with CFL fans and there’s a great energy that comes with our players and our teams.”
On the field, Dickenson and the Riders are hoping that their performance can give those affected by flooding a momentary escape from their troubles.
“Hopefully we give them something fun to do for a few days,” the coach said. “That’s one thing we talked about with our team is we want to work hard, have fun and really enjoy being in the moment. Hopefully, the folks out here can come to the game and feel the same way.”