FORT MCMURRAY — It’s been a busy year for Elise Phillippo and her husband Brandon.
They got hitched, bought a house and had a baby — all against the backdrop of the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
Four days before her May 7 wedding, the bride-to-be was planning to pick up her dress from the seamstress after work.
Instead, she was among the more than 88,000 Fort McMurray residents caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic as a fierce wildfire forced the entire northeastern Alberta city to empty.
Phillippo would never see that dress again. It was inside a home that burned in the hard-hit Abasand neighbourhood.
In Toronto, where the wedding was to take place, the couple’s photographer, Alex Neary with Wild Eyed Photography, asked if there was anything she could do to help.
“And I said, ‘I need a dress,’” recalls Phillippo, 30.
She thought perhaps Neary could scrounge up a second-hand one from a friend.
“All of a sudden she messaged back and said she had all these dresses,” Phillippo says.
“I was taken aback. What do you mean: ‘All these dresses?’”
Word got around on social media.
“People just started offering dresses one after another. I just couldn’t wrap my head around people being as generous as they were. They had no idea who I was, so they definitely didn’t have to do that for me.”
A shop in downtown Toronto, Lea-Ann Belter Bridal, gave Phillippo one dress and loaned her another.
The couple tied the knot on Toronto Island on the same day they had planned all along.
At the ceremony, Phillippo wore the loaner, a lacy number with spaghetti straps and a train. The donated dress got some use months later, when she let a friend, who was trying to save money, wear it for her wedding.
From Toronto, the newlyweds went to Edmonton and waited for the evacuation order to lift. Phillippo, a massage therapist, spent that time working at the Active Life Centre clinic in St. Albert, where she says she was treated like family.
The home the couple was renting in Fort McMurray’s Thickwood neighbourhood was undamaged by the fire. They have since bought it.
Phillippo expects her first wedding anniversary to be low key. Their two-month-old son Kellan Xavier takes up all the time and attention.
The one-year anniversary of the fire is looming a bit larger in her mind.
“I’m actually kind of looking forward to the anniversary of the fire, as strange as that sounds,” she says. ”I’m kind of hoping that it gives people some peace.”