Red River Floodway

Floods have always been a fact of life for Manitobans. In colonial days, settlers would flee to high ground at places like Bird’s Hill. In the 1900s, however, Manitoba’s population boomed and its building infrastructure expanded. The Great Flood of 1950 saw over 10,500 homes flooded (1/10th of Winnipeg). The great potential damage future floods could do became a major concern.

New dikes and pumps were put in place, but when the Department of Resources and Development’s 1953 report recommended a huge river diversion channel be dug, Premier Douglas Campbell (1948-1958) hesitated at the cost. The succeeding Progressive Conservative government under Dufferin Roblin (1958-1967), however, leapt into construction of the Red River Floodway and other flood prevention projects. Critics nicknamed the floodway “Duff’s Ditch” and “decried [it] as ‘approximating the building of the pyramids of Egypt in terms of usefulness.’”

The floodway runs from just south of St. Norbert to the locks at Lockport (29 miles) and cost $62.7 million to construct. Manitoban companies moved more earth than it took to dig the Suez Canal, and 40% as much as the Panama canal. The St Lawrence Seaway took only two thirds the digging. Amazingly, they finished it without overruns in cost or time between 1962 and 1968.

The floodway proved its worth many times since 1950. Damage was minimized in floods of similar size in 1974 and 1979, and only 30 houses in Winnipeg flooded in the 1997 “Flood of the Century,” the largest since 1826. South of St. Norbert, 28,000 Manitobans were evacuated as a lake five and a half times the size of Winnipeg formed, and Grand Forks, ND was inundated. Winnipeg was saved, but only just.  The waters almost went around the floodway gates!

The Floodway Expansion Project which concluded in 2010  doubled its capacity  to accommodate the estimated size of a 1 in 700 year flood. It cost almost three times as much as the original project but has saved Manitoba billions of dollars in flood damage since its completion.

“Duff’s Ditch” was designated as a National Historic site in 2006. Its success is a tribute to the fruits of Canada’s heritage of enterprise and organization.

You can watch an informational video about this site here!

Posted in St. Clements.