Manitoba

After 6 years away, a few Lake St. Martin families get keys to their new homes

A handful of Lake St. Martin flood evacuees got keys to new homes Thursday, ending more than six years of life displacement in Winnipeg.

More flood evacuees will move into the new homes in the coming months

Alex Traverse, left, was the first community member to get keys to a new home Thursday. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

A handful of Lake St. Martin flood evacuees got keys to new homes Thursday, ending more than six years of life displacement in Winnipeg.

"It's a surreal moment for everybody here," said Alex Traverse, who with his wife and daughter will be among the first of 12 people moving into new homes on the new Lake St. Martin First Nation.

Twenty-five families were supposed to get keys Thursday, but construction delays mean they'll have to wait a few more days.

Construction crews were putting the finishing touches on the exterior of Traverse's new, three-bedroom modular home shortly before he walked into it for the first time, accompanied by a crowd that included a couple dozen flood evacuees.

Life will be different on the new Lake St. Martin reserve. The homes on the new site are much closer together than they were on the adjacent site of the former reserve.

Traverse, 32, says the new reserve has some perks, including the new water plant where he works. The plant will ensure the community never runs out of clean water — something that was a problem on the old reserve, he said.

A handful of Lake St. Martin flood evacuees got keys to new homes Thursday, ending more than six years of life displacement in Winnipeg. 2:33

Llillian Traverse says Thursday brought her hope.

She won't get a new house until the second phase of the operation to return evacuees home — a phase she hopes will come by next spring.

"I'm really anxious," she said, standing outside Alex Traverse's new home.

However, she says, while it will be nice to move into a new home away from Winnipeg, she knows the adjustment from city life to the reserve will be difficult for some.

"We're going to be wishing to go to Tim Hortons, McDonald's," she said with a laugh.

Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair says the goal is to have 190 people moved into homes by Christmas.

Nearly 1,400 people from the First Nation were forced from their homes by floodwaters in 2011. As of last December, there were more than 1,200 Lake St. Martin flood evacuees still living in private rentals in Winnipeg. Other evacuees are still in hotels.

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      Sinclair says life for evacuees living in Winnipeg over the last six years has been hard.

      Close to 100 people from the First Nation have died since being displaced by the 2011 flood, he says. Illness and suicide has plagued his community and youth have become involved in gangs.

      "It's been a struggle," he said.

      Sinclair says the new reserve is protected by drainage systems. "I'm not worried about the flooding," he said.

      About the Author

      ​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. This past summer, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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