April 21st, 2009 by Emma Durand-Wood

I think it’s a pretty universal thing to think “snow” when you think “Winnipeg”.  But these days, I think “water” would be a more accurate association!

I grew up on the prairies so wasn’t too worried that my first Winnipeg winter would be a huge shock. I figured it would be a lot like southern Alberta, only without the Chinooks. And for the most part, my assessment was right. People were constantly asking me, with pity and a hint of glee,  “So, how’s your first Winnipeg winter coming along? Betcha didn’t expect it to be this cold!” Well, actually, the dry climate has taken some getting used to, but the cold was almost exactly what I was expecting.

What I was completely unprepared for, however, is the sheer amount of water that is involved in a Manitoba spring. They should just rename the season to “Flood”.  I lived in Vancouver for five years, so I know what rain and water in general are all about. But you haven’t seen water until you’ve seen 10 weeks’ worth of snow melt in the course of 48 hours. Roads are submerged, previously gravel parking pads turn to mud pits, and I think everyone I know got at least some water in their basement. And our curling club had one sheet damaged by water that snuck in 🙁

Most Canadians probably remember the “Flood of the Century” of 1997. I can still remember the television images of frantic, neverending sandbagging efforts. (Speaking of sandbagging, I loved the post “Love in the time of flooding” from the Don Street Blog.) And when I was tolerating windy springtimes growing up in Alberta, my grandma would call from her apartment on Pembina every week and tell us what the river was doing, namely, how high it was compared to last week, last month, last year.

But despite this, flooding wasn’t something that came to mind when I imagined what it would be like living in Winnipeg. Of course, they’re saying this year is almost as bad as ’97, so it’s definitely worse than most years, but still.  What I didn’t realise until just recently is that the areas alongside the Red River deal with flooding pretty much every year.

The other night, we walked down to the riverside in Glenelm and observed just how high and fast the water is.  It’s really quite remarkable. Until that point I’d only seen the swollen river from bridges and on TV. It amazed me that I could be living in the city, just a 10 minute walk from the river, and not be particularly affected by it. Meanwhile, barely outside the city, many people have voluntarily or otherwise evacuated, others rescued from their rooftops, still more determined stay in their homes as long as possible despite imminent flooding.

On the news, I keep hearing phrases like, “You can’t predict what Mother Nature will do.” “Mother Nature does as she pleases.” “We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature”. It seems to me an interesting juxtaposition of respect and surrender.  A fully acceptance that we humans are not in charge, but a plea, nevertheless, that we will somehow be spared.

4 Responses to “Water-peg”

  1. Pat J says:

    A lot of the water doesn’t make it into Winnipeg, as I understand it, because of the diversions and the dikes and the floodway. Otherwise it’d probably be a pretty bad scene most years.

  2. Norman says:

    Emma – When it gets too wet you can always come visit us in the parched lands of Escondido, CA – Has Winnipeg employed the Dutch to move water? http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1117/p08s02-comv.html “To protect New Orleans (or the Peg), go Dutch”

  3. Karen says:

    I too was surprised at the speed of the flooding, but I’m also surprised at how quickly it’s disappeared in some places! Considering how high the water table is, and how saturated the ground is, I’m amazed that some of the overland “lakes”, like at Assiniboine Park, evaporated in two days of warm weather.

    Never heard “Water-peg” before – good name!

  4. Emma says:

    Norm – woot!! Can’t wait to come down to Escondido!

    Those Dutch are a clever, clever people! 🙂

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