This isn’t the first big flood to hit Ottawa-Gatineau

Ottawa Citizen - - OBSERVER - ME­GAN GILLIS

Sum­mer homes were flooded in Aylmer, in Bri­tan­nia, in Woodroffe and West­boro; roads link­ing Hull and Gatineau Point were washed out; and a trio of cy­clists were car­ried off by the cur­rent for an “im­promptu bath.”

The re­cent flood­ing to hit parts of Que­bec and On­tario is hardly a first for this re­gion, as newly spot­ted pho­tos make clear.

Dave All­ston was sift­ing through un­la­belled boxes at the Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil’s Na­tional Air Photo Li­brary, when he came across rare aerial pho­tos doc­u­ment­ing flood­ing from 1928.

“These pho­tos have never seen the light of day — they’re deep in the archives,” All­ston said.

Nearly nine decades af­ter they were taken, and with the Ottawa again spilling its banks, he posted them to his en­gross­ing blog, The Kitchissippi Mu­seum.

Taken from a low-fly­ing plane, the pho­tos cap­ture in­un­dated homes, washed out streets and the flooded ramp to Cham­plain Bridge, which was then only a few months old.

Records from the time, in­clud­ing sto­ries from the Ottawa Journal, of­fer more de­tails.

Res­i­dents in Eastview — now Vanier — were irate or, as a Journal re­porter noted, “wrathy,” about how ice-blast­ing had been con­ducted on the Rideau River in March 1928.

Tor­rents of wa­ter as deep as four feet, sweep­ing logs and jagged chunks of ice sud­denly streamed down Mon­treal Road.

Planes had to be re­moved from hangars that were fill­ing with wa­ter at Shirley’s Bay, 10 kilo­me­tres west of Ottawa.

By April, a re­porter said, Ottawa looked like Hol­land and “Billings Bridge was lined with many peo­ple who en­joyed their hol­i­day in watch­ing the river’s an­tics.”

“Mother Rideau, fully awak­ened late last night from her win­ter’s sleep be­neath the ice packs, swept on to the falls at the Ottawa (River) with re­newed youth, seek­ing new chan­nels along her banks and spread­ing lake-wise over low-ly­ing ter­ri­tory in her basin,” wrote the Journal re­porter with a po­etic bent.

Soon it was mas­sive Fa­ther Ottawa’s turn.

By mid-May, the Ottawa River had crested 14 feet above its nor­mal level, break­ing what was then a two-decade-old record.

All­ston, a sixth-gen­er­a­tion west Ot­tawan, and his kids this week cov­ered the same ground shown in the 1928 pho­tographs, and found it very sim­i­lar.

“The wa­ter is eat­ing West­boro Beach just as it did then,” All­ston said.

One dif­fer­ence to­day is the bermlike pro­tec­tion of the raised, river­front park­way. In 1961, it re­placed ex­pro­pri­ated cot­tages that lined the wa­ter from Me­chan­icsville to Bri­tan­nia. If they were still stand­ing, they’d be in­un­dated, and the wa­ter could lap Rich­mond Road.

All­ston’s west-end ’hood wasn’t just cot­tage coun­try back in the day. There was a log boom at West­boro Beach, a lum­ber mill op­er­ated by Ni­cholas Sparks at the end of Park­dale Av­enue and, un­til the 1920s, another mill at Bayview Yards.

Walk out from West­boro Beach and the old chains that once held the tim­ber booms up still dan­gle in the wa­ter.

In fact, with­out the spring floods, the tim­ber upon which Ottawa was first built couldn’t have been rushed to mar­ket af­ter a win­ter’s cut in the bush.

“The Chaudiere was the rea­son why we’re here, ba­si­cally,” All­ston said. “That’s it: the power of the river, which is what the Kitchissippi is, the (in­dige­nous) name for the grand river.”

Only this year’s flood wa­ter lev­els beat the 1928 record at Bri­tan­nia Bay.

In May 2017, the wa­ter level at a mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion peaked at 60.45 me­tres above sea level, ac­cord­ing to pro­vi­sional num­bers — 1.67 me­tres above nor­mal — best­ing the 1928 level of 60.35 me­tres.

Dur­ing the last wide­spread flood­ing in May 1979, a wa­ter level of 60.26 me­tres above sea level was enough to dis­place some Bri­tan­nia Vil­lage res­i­dents for days and to spark the con­struc­tion of flood­pro­tec­tion mea­sures in­clud­ing sea­walls, grad­ing and flood con­trol bulk­heads. mgillis@post­


The flood of 1928 look­ing east from Woodroffe, largely ex­pro­pri­ated for the park­way in the ’50s. West­boro is be­yond in the dis­tance.

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