Capturing the Emotional Trauma of Flood and Fire on an Ordinary Day at the Coldwater Hotel

Submission 2024

Century-old wooden building with the words “Coldwater Hotel” on its side stands at an intersection on a bright sunny day.
Submitted by:Angelina Fedorenko
Department:Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
Faculty:Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES)

In 2021, the City of Merritt, British Columbia endured severe forest fires and the flooding of the Coldwater River. To better understand the emotional impacts of extreme weather events, two of my research colleagues and I conducted fieldwork in Merritt during the summer of 2023. Upon arrival, I found this scene joyful and captured this photo of the Coldwater Hotel on a bright sunny morning. This hotel has stood in the heart of the city for over a century and has seen the devastation that the extreme events have caused time and time again. One young interview participant, who recently moved out of fear that she may endure another flood, recounts her utter shock seeing search and rescue near the Coldwater Hotel. What seemed like an ordinary day walking past the hotel to work, suddenly turned into a mandatory evacuation of over 7,000 Merrittonians. Two years later, the young participant continues to struggle with the emotional trauma of the flood: “… seeing search and rescue setting up, I still have nightmares about it.” Reflecting on this photo, I no longer find joy. Instead, the fear, sadness, and grief echoed throughout many of the interviews now resonate with this photo.

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This photo of the Coldwater Hotel was taken on my second-generation iPhone SE. While the lens on my iPhone is comparatively smaller than a regular hand-held camera, it can still capture beautiful outdoor photos when sufficient natural lighting is present. Knowing this, I purposefully took as many photos of Merritt during the early hours of the day before having to conduct field research. Merritt has a rich history, evidenced by the old buildings like the Coldwater Hotel. Given my excitement, I knew it was an image I had to capture. It was an exceptionally sunny day, so I opted to keep the flash off and the exposure at zero. I then centred the rotunda in the middle grid of my iPhone and let the natural lighting take care of the rest. To give the image more depth, I stood at an intersection to capture the dualism of the dark and sunny sides of the hotel. My intention of taking this photo was to remind myself of the joy I felt in the moment, but the photo now serves as a personal reminder of the toll the fires and floods took on the city.