Early farmers who came to what is now the Winnipeg area from Scotland were known as the Selkirk Settlers. By 1826, they had already faced disease, harsh weather and battles over the fur trade. It was early May, but there was still thick ice on the Red River. Heavy rains sent huge chunks of ice along the swollen river, smashing and sweeping away houses, barns, trees and farm animals. Many settlers finally gave up and left for the United States. An earthquake off the coast of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula in 1929 caused a tsunami — a huge tidal wave travelling 40 kilometres per hour — that roared up on shore on Nov. 18. It flooded villages and washed houses out to sea, killing 28 people, the most ever to die in Canada because of an earthquake. An earlier storm had broken the telegraph line, so it was three days before the government learned what had happened. When B.C.’s Fraser River flooded in 1948, it forced 16,000 people from their houses and destroyed 2,000 homes. Heavy fall rains, a winter with lots
of snow and a cold spring that meant frozen ground and icy rivers resulted in the disastrous 1950 Winnipeg flood. The Red River was already at flood level when a huge storm of rain and snow pushed it over dikes and sandbags on May 5. The water ripped apart bridges, destroyed buildings, flooded 1,500 square kilometres of farmland and drove tens of thousands of people from their homes. The disaster prompted governments to build the Red River Floodway to control water in the future. In 1997, water levels were already high when a blizzard dumped 50 centimetres of snow on Winnipeg. When it melted, the result was what’s often called the Flood of the Century, but it would have been much worse without the changes made after the 1950 flood. A month’s worth of rain fell on Quebec’s Saguenay region from July 18 to 21, 1996, triggering floods and mudslides that tore away bridges, roads, buildings and trees. The mud and water killed 10 people and caused more than $1.5 billion worth of damage.
Houses under water in the Winnipeg Flood of 1950
Measuring the flow in the 1997 Winnipeg flood