SUR­VIVAL MODE

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

Ottawa Magazine - - VOLUME 21 | NUMBER 1 - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY RéMI THERIAULT

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?

THE BACK­STORY

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

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