Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Sunday special: High water marks
Past pages, former floods from our archives
When Manitobans think of spring, historically they also think of flooding. A quick walk through the new Winnipeg Free Press archive site quickly shows that Manitobans are veteran flood fighters even after the construction of the Red River Floodway.
In the April 20, 1882, newspaper, the flood taking out the Broadway Bridge in Winnipeg didn’t even make it to the front page.
The article on page two reported that large chunks of ice filled the Red River upstream from the Broadway Bridge and thousands of Winnipeggers lined the sides of the river, all the way to the Louise Bridge, many taking bets on whether the bridge would survive or not - "the odds being against it."
A few minutes later, a eastern side of the drawbridge gave way with a crash "that could be heard a mile away.
"A number of people were on the bridge at the time, but fortunately sufficient warning was given to enable them all to get away from the threatened danger.
"The time some of them made was exceedingly good."
Oh, in case you’re wondering, the main story on the front page was a chronicle of what happened at the city council meeting.
But, under the headline "A Wild and Reckless Ride", was a story detailing a bank robbery and escape by Jesse and Frank James.
On April 19, 1950, dynamite crews were blasting ice jams on the Red River south of Winnipeg to clear the river channel before the crest reached the international border. Provincial officials said they wanted to get rid of water already in Manitoba as fast as they could before floodwaters from North Dakota reached the province.
Provincial engineers were quoted as saying that the danger of a severe flood in Winnipeg and southern Manitoba was "obvious".
The Free Press also reported that a shipment of anti-typhoid serum was being flown to Winnipeg and inoculations had already begun in several communities including Gretna, Dominion City, and Emerson.
A month later, dynamite crews were forced to blow up a house which had been ripped from its foundations and became stuck on the Elm Park bridge. That’s the bridge which is next to the BDI.
It was estimated about 18 per cent of the city was under water.
A crowd of hundreds of people lined the top of the Floodway gates on April 13, 1969, when - for the first time - the gates were raised to reduce the flow of water in the Red River through Winnipeg.
But it wasn’t even the main flood story that day: the main headline on the front pages was 7,000 Flee Minot Flood. The Mouse River was cresting the highest in recorded history.
In non-flood news that day, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was reported to have dodged a tomato thrown at him during an event in Calgary.
A decade later - during the1979 flood which provincial officials are comparing to this year’s - Premier Sterling Lyon and his cabinet ordered the evacuation of all hospitals, senior citizens homes and other centres "for the infirmed" in the Red River Valley.
As well, Lyon also said people living in farms outside of community ring dikes should make their own evacuation plans.
An accompanying photograph showed dike building material was suddenly very valuable.
A homeowner on flood-threatened Turnbull Drive was photographed holding coin bags donated by the Royal Canadian Mint to be used as sandbags. Writing on the outside of the bags showed that normally they would be holding $1,000 worth of 50-cent coins instead of holding back flood waters.
In the days to come, thousands of people faced evacuation orders.
But, to show how quickly things can change, a month before a small four paragraph story at the bottom of page four said provincial officials were saying with normal spring conditions the Red River was expected to be "only slightly above bankfull flows".
The 1997 flood is remembered as the one in which the community of Ste. Agathe was lost to the floodwaters when water breached its dike on the west side of town, while other threatened communities like Winnipeg successfully fought off the swollen Red River.
But it could have been worse.
On April 30, the day the Red River crested in Winnipeg, the city told more than 10,000 Winnipeggers they were on evacuation alert.
The residents were told they would have to move if the city’s main defence - the hastily-thrown up Brunkild dike - failed.
At that time more than 24,000 Manitobans had already been forced from their homes in the Red River Valley.
The dike didn’t fail, the city was safe, and slowly but surely water in the Red River went back to within its bank.
The Winnipeg Free Press Archives
Have a closer look at PDF files of some of the pages referenced in this story below, then check out the Winnipeg Free Press Archives to search our online database of more than 2 million historical pages from the Winnipeg Free Press and all its earlier titles, such as the Manitoba Free Press.
These pages, dating back to 1874, are fully searchable by name, keyword and date, making it easy for you to quickly explore historical content, research your family history, or simply read about a person or event of interest. You also can order a high-quality, full-size reprint of any page in the archive as a gift or for personal display.
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