This isn’t the first big flood to hit Ottawa-Gatineau
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. email@example.com
The flood of 1928 looking east from Woodroffe, largely expropriated for the parkway in the ’50s. Westboro is beyond in the distance.