Abby Luciano, Western North America heat wave, 2021

Young adult, standing by a tree.

Abby is a third-year journalism student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. In high school, Abby delivered newspapers everyday before school and knew from an early age that journalism was the right path for her. 

She grew up in St. Catharines , Ontario, where she lived with her family, before she moved to Surrey, British Columbia in 2019. She is the managing editor for Kwantlen’s newspaper, The Runner, having started out as a contributor to the student newspaper. Abby is also taking part in a book research project with journalism instructor Tracy Sherlock, which will focus on Kwantlen’s staff and students, from the early 1980s to present day.  For fun, Abby likes to play video games, collect CDs, go to concerts, watch movies, and spend time with friends. She also used to know how to play the ukulele and piano as a kid.

During the summer heat dome in 2021, Abby lived with her boyfriend, Josh Watson, in their one-bedroom apartment and worked as a crew trainer at a nearby McDonalds. Coming from Ontario, Abby thought she would be used to the heat. But those summers out east couldn’t prepare her for the heat dome.  

Vancouver, Canada - I was working every single day during the heat wave. It was brutal because you are surrounded by fryers and grills with no AC. You’re already dealing with heat and then more on top of that was really challenging.  The McDonalds was filled with people because they wanted to escape from the heat. During the summer,  you have summer drink days, so we already have a lot more people coming in. Everyone was packed in like sardines. We ran out of ice and people were yelling at us saying, “Hey, we want ice in our drinks. How can we stay cool if there’s no ice?”  I understand the customers' frustration because I would be pissed too. But there was only so much we could do. 

After a few days went by, it seemed like everyone was losing it. People were yelling at us and it was overwhelming because we’re sweating too. Lots of sweat. You could smell people. The uniform materials are not sweat resistant, so when you’re working in the heat, it can make you feel hotter than you actually are. 

Having to deal with that, working eight or nine hours a day and seeing people’s frustrated faces was a lot. I’m frustrated too. I’m sweating. I’m trying the best that I can during my shift. I kept thinking that I want to go home and not have to deal with it. It was unbearable and emotionally exhausting.

The whole team was also feeling the same way. We wanted to cool down but we couldn’t because there were so many people coming inside. A lot of us had to miss our breaks or at least have shorter breaks, like fifteen minutes instead of a full half an hour. We were running around and you could tell from our eyes that we were exhausted and couldn’t wait for the heat wave to be over.

Compared to my house, McDonalds was definitely cooler because my apartment traps in heat so well. We live on the second floor and when you live higher up, hot air rises. So it felt hotter than it was. I remember there was a butter tray on the counter and I left it out by accident. In less than five minutes, it was completely melted. Like you put it in a frying pan. And you could smell it too. I’m like, “Oh my God, we're inside.”

I would take a cold shower and then coming out, I would already be sweating. I’m like, “Oh my God this isn’t normal.” You should be able to have a cold shower and relief for a little while and not just a few minutes. We bought a bunch of ice packs to help relieve ourselves at night. So I would put an ice pack on Josh’s neck before he went to bed and he would do the same for me.

I wish my building would change the requirements because we weren’t allowed to have an AC unit. If we’re going through a massive heat dome, shouldn’t we be able to get the equipment we need in order to stay cool? Because a fan can only do so much, since it is blowing hot air in your face. I think AC would have helped me find some relief. 

When the heat wave happened last year in BC, I noticed everyone was scrambling to find some relief. Surrey needs to provide more cooling centres because if this happens again, it can change someone’s life, especially someone who's experiencing homelessness. It makes me sad that many people died from not having access to the right equipment or resources. Some people don’t have the financial option to go to hotel rooms and get relief with an AC.

I definitely think governments can try and find more eco-friendly solutions and invest in more eco-friendly projects. A lot of people say we want sustainable solutions, but we keep investing in fossil fuels and coal. There is change happening, but I feel like it is not fast enough. When are people going to realize that we have to do something and increase the speed of investing in these projects?  

I do feel resentful towards older generations because I feel like they thought it would be a future problem and that they don’t have to deal with it right now. But if people keep doing that, then no one’s going to do anything. And we have to pick up the pieces? That’s not fair. We are only in university. We still have our whole lives ahead of us, yet we are already seeing disasters.

It makes me mad because why didn’t they do something when they had the chance? Why did we have to go from glass to plastic, even when they saw the impacts plastic had? It’s cheaper to make, but at what cost to the planet?

Ironically, I do have hope for the future. I know what we see outside doesn’t look like there’s any hope, but I try not to look at it that way. We have to realize what we’re doing to the planet. At the same time, if we keep focusing on all of the bad stuff we are not going to want to do much. We do need some positivity to create solutions to have a better future.  I think we are making more progress than ten years ago. I do have hope for the future because people do care. It just might not change as fast as we want to. 

by Abby Luciano as told to Emma Bolzner (edited by Aldyn Chwelos, Sean Holman, and Tracy Sherlock)