Red Cross seeks assistance from RBC Convention Centre

Evacuees from Northern Manitoba use emergency shelter at Convention Centre

At 4:00 pm Wednesday August 30, the RBC Convention Centre was informed there was a need to house people living in northern Manitoba who were being driven from their homes due to a wildfire. By 5:00 pm, the Red Cross and the Bear Clan were on site setting up. By late Thursday morning, the first bus load of evacuees was walking through the front door and by nightfall, nearly 1,000 people were checked in.

“It was amazing how fast the Red Cross and their volunteers were able to mobilize their crisis plan and put everything into place so quickly and efficiently,” said Klaus Lahr, President and CEO, RBC Convention Centre. “I’m proud of our team who followed suit and went to work right away to ensure we were ready and able to house so many people within such a short window of time.”

For a week, the convention centre was home to families from the Island Lake Region, a remote area in northeastern Manitoba approximately 600 km from Winnipeg.  Everything was in place to make their stay as comfortable as possible. As hotel rooms became available and a second shelter was opened, some guests were relocated but the majority of the evacuees remained at the convention centre. The Red Cross had staff and volunteers on site 24 hours a day to ensure everything ran smoothly and all needs were met.

Providing Comfort

Halls A and B on the third floor of the centre was transformed into sleeping quarters with rows and rows of cots provide by the Red Cross. Hall C was the dining area with tables and chairs and a buffet that served meals three times a day. With a large screen and AV equipment donated by Freeman Audio Visual, movies were shown in a comfortable entertainment area.  The Red Cross also ensured there were information stations for health and social services as well as a registration hub that was in place the entire time to answer questions and provide comfort during this stressful time.

When the comforts of home are far away, taking care of some of those basic needs becomes paramount and using food to provide some relief and a diversion for the evacuees was a task the convention centre was ready to fulfill.

“We are in the business of creating outstanding guest experiences in everything we do,” added Lahr. “Preparing fresh, delicious and hot meals for 1,000 people, three times a day is something we’re used to doing.  At some of our busiest meal periods, we can easily serve 5,000 dinner guests at one sitting.”

But this wasn’t a grad ceremony or Christmas party so selecting the menu and meal-planning with feedback from the evacuees was crucial. Executive Chef Quentin Harty along with his culinary team tried to be as accommodating as possible and added food items at the request of the guests.

After a week of the unknown, the wildfire conditions in the northern communities improved and the emergency shelter at the convention centre was closed and the evacuees were sent home. It was an amazing experience to see how the staff and volunteers of the Red Cross came together so quickly and provided around the clock care to thousands of displaced Manitobans. The RBC Convention Centre was honoured to have been able to open its doors and provide food and shelter during this difficult time.