In the spring of 2017, water levels in the Ottawa area rose to unprecedented levels, causing flooding on rivers and lakes. Jane Corbett shares her story. Photography by Rémi Thériault
When the lake washed over the beach and threatened to swallow her home last spring, JANE CORBETT felt as though a tsunami had hit. She had two choices: flee or fight
tsu·na·mi a long, high sea wave caused by an earthquake, submarine landslide, or other disturbance; an arrival or occurrence of something in overwhelming quantities or amounts.
I HAVE THIS RECURRING NIGHTMARE in which I am looking out the front window of my cottage. In the distance, I see a tsunami coming across the lake. The dilemma is always the same: do I leave the cottage and make a run for it, or do I stay in the cottage and face the onslaught?
I grew up as a cottager, spending summers at a lakeside home built by my dad and his brothers in 1961. At that time, you could build pretty much anywhere you liked on your land. So Dad built close to the water. So close, in fact, that every spring we lost frontage to the receding ice. It was a constant battle to retain the land.
From those early days, I knew I wanted to retire at the cottage, which I had come to call Blue Heron (because of its colour and the avian visitors that frequented my beach). So in 2012, I fully renovated Blue Heron; it was no longer a cottage — it was my retirement home.
To be close to work, I rented an apartment in Ottawa. That’s where I was on April 18, 2017, when I received an email from a neighbour saying my cottage was totally surrounded by water and ice. She attached photos that were unbelievable to me. Never in 56 years had the water been this high.
After receiving the devastating news, I asked my sister Linda, who lives a short drive from the cottage, to go and turn off the breaker and empty the fridge. She called me later that night to say the water was over the top of her boots and still rising. I knew I had to be there to try to do whatever I could to save my home.
I had never driven on water-covered roads before and found it terrifying. I parked on a small island of gravel near my driveway. I didn’t want to ruin my shoes and I knew I had dry socks in the cottage, so I rolled up my pants and walked barefoot through the knee-deep, ice-cold water.
Inside I found Linda moving boxes up off the floor, stacking them on beds and the sofa. We worked until dark, knowing that if the lake rose another four or five inches, water would be inside the cottage. But there was nothing more we could do.
Beached The writer standing where the beach normally begins and water is typically ankle-deep