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Red River Rising: The Winnipeg Floodway

The Cree called it Miscousipi, Red Water River, and warned early settlers of its hidden capacity for destruction. The river flooded in 1826, forcing the complete evacuation of the 10-year-old Red River colony. But most settlers refused to give up. Winnipeg, the city they built on the Red River's banks, has braved disaster again and again – in 1950, 1966, 1979, and again, dramatically, in 1997.

After the devastating flood of 1950, a cry goes up for greater flood protection for the city of Winnipeg. A federal inquiry and a royal commission are set up to investigate options. They recommend a ditch be dug to divert the Red River's overflow around the city. Duff Roblin, the newly-elected Conservative premier of Manitoba, champions the idea against vociferous opposition. This CBC TV retrospective on the floodway begins with Roblin remembering the spring of 1950.

Liberal opposition members object to the expropriation of hundreds of parcels of land, mostly farms, which would have to make way for the floodway. Instead, they advocate dredging the river and raising dikes.
But the vote in the legislature goes in Roblin's favour. The floodway will be built. On CBC TV in 1962, Duff Roblin breaks the sod at the construction site with his young son in tow. The ditch is completed in March, 1968 and opens on Oct. 11, when it is officially christened the Greater Winnipeg Floodway.

The floodway is 47 kilometres long and almost as wide as the Red River itself. This modern marvel of civil engineering is designed to protect Winnipeg from a flood 50 per cent greater than the flood of 1950.
Between 1968 and 1999, the floodway saves Winnipeg 20 times, most notably in 1979 and 1997. And it's in 1997 that Winnipeg's hero Duff Roblin first has the honour of turning the switch to open the floodway gates.
. One hundred million cubic yards of earth were moved to build the Winnipeg Floodway. This is more than were excavated during the construction of the Panama or Suez Canals.
. The floodway was first used in 1969.
. The cost of the floodway was $63.2 million - about $500 million in 1997 dollars.
. The floodway came in under budget. Costs had been estimated at $70 million.
. Analysts estimate the floodway has saved Manitoba several billion dollars in flood damages.

. The floodway begins at the south end of the city, near St. Norbert, and ends north of the city, near Lockport.
. Duff Roblin's political opponents nicknamed the floodway "Duff's Ditch" and "Duff's Folly."
. It's a common myth that Duff's Ditch, like the Great Wall of China, was visible to the Apollo astronauts on the moon. Actually, no man-made objects are visible from the moon. However, the floodway and the Great Wall are visible from a low earth orbit.

. Because of the extensive damage caused by the 1950 flood, two inquiries were set up. The federal Red River Basin Investigation reported in 1953 after three years of study. It declared that a flood protection plan was needed.

. The second inquiry, a Royal Commission, was appointed in 1956 to investigate options.

In 1958, the Royal Commission made four recommendations:
. Constructing a floodway around the east side of Winnipeg
. Raising the dikes in Winnipeg
. Constructing the Shellmouth dam and reservoir on the Assiniboine River near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border
. Constructing a floodway from the Assiniboine River west of Portage la Prairie to Lake Manitoba in the north.
These recommendations were all followed.

. Duff Roblin was elected premier of Manitoba in 1958, in part because of his promise to provide flood protection. In 1959, he tabled a proposal at the legislature for the construction of the floodway.
. The floodway gates work by restricting the flow of water into the Red River. The gates, which are just downriver from the start of the floodway, are divided into pie-shaped sections. When the sections are raised, the channel is narrowed, forcing water to overflow into the floodway ditch.
Medium: Television
Program: 24 Hours
Broadcast Date: April 27, 1997
Guest(s): Larry Desjardins, Elman Guttormson, Ed Kuiper, Russ Paulley, Duff Roblin, Ed Schreyer
Reporter: Rick Ratte
Duration: 8:13

Last updated: February 10, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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