Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ghost town in the making?

Family selling vital store after St. Ambroise-area storm, flooding

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The dream of fleeing the rat race appears to be over for Melinda Moch and her young family -- last year's flooding on Lake Manitoba has put an end to their plan for an idyllic life in the place they love.

The St. Ambroise Convenience Store owner has put her business up for sale on the Internet because she doesn't have enough customers to keep it open much longer.

Those customers were guaranteed each summer with campers and day trippers at St. Ambroise Beach Provincial Park just down the road and in the fall by duck hunters on the marsh.

But the October 2010 "weather bomb" windstorm and last year's unprecedented flooding on the lake -- flooding in part caused by the province's use of the Portage Diversion to divert some of the flow of water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba -- destroyed the park and its campground. The park is closed for a second year and it's questionable whether it will even reopen.

"Without the park being open May long weekend next year, I don't have any hope," Moch said. "It's been an absolute nightmare."

For the 200 or so people who live in and around St. Ambroise, 105 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, the possible closure of their only store is the beginning of St. Ambroise becoming a ghost town. The store serves as a coffee shop, grocery, deli and beer and liquor vendor.

"St. Ambroise alone can't keep the store going," Concerned Residents of St. Ambroise spokesman John Lavallee said. "We want to get our beach and park open again so we can get back on track."

The community is to meet this evening at the Manitoba Metis Federation Centre to discuss what they can do to convince the Selinger government to at least reopen the beach for day use.

Without Moch's store, residents will have to travel to St. Laurent, a 40-minute drive, for groceries or gas.

A provincial spokeswoman said a large part of the park's infrastructure was damaged beyond repair in the October 2010 storm and 2011 flood. Wave action also changed the park's beach and landscape.

The province has hired an engineering firm to assess the damage with a report due later this summer. A decision on the future of the St. Ambroise park won't be made until then.

The big problem is that much of the land that was the beach, park and campground was washed away.

Moch said she and her husband, Brandon, bought the store and gas bar in December 2010 in the hope it would become their family business.

But they're barely scraping by. Moch said if she and her husband can't sell the store -- the asking price is $250,000 -- they may have to declare bankruptcy.

"It's honest to goodness been the year from hell," she added. "I'm meeting with our banker on Wednesday. He feels we're at the end of our rope. I'm still waiting for a miracle."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2012 A4

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