Yukon family displaced by historic floods back at home in time for Christmas

One Yukon family got an extra special gift for Christmas this year — they’ve moved back into their home, after being forced out in July during Yukon’s historic floods.

The Lemphers lived in a neighbour's garage for 5 months as they waited for repairs

Florian Lemphers relaxes in his favourite chair for the first time since moving back into his home. He enjoys being able to see beautiful Shallow Bay from his front porch - a view he hasn't been able to see in five months during his family's evacuation. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Florian Lemphers is unpacking his moving boxes at the same time as his Christmas gifts this year. 

Lemphers, his wife Andrea and their two dogs, canoed out of their front yard in Shallow Bay, Yukon, on July 13, after water from the usually-distant bay breached the berm set up to protect their home. 

The Lemphers had to leave their home by canoe this summer as flood waters swallowed their front yard on Shallow Bay. (Gordon Loverin/CBC)

Volunteers came from all over the territory to set up sandbags to try to keep the water at bay — but still, they were forced to leave and stay out for months.

So knowing that they can finally come home, Lemphers said, is a blessing. 

"We don't have a Christmas tree up … we don't have a Christmas anything," Lemphers said, smiling as he turned on the lights in their home for the first time. "But the biggest gift of all is that we're back home for Christmas." 

Florian Lemphers smiles as he walks down the hallways of his renovated home. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Lemphers' Lodge is in the Southern Lakes region, where the Yukon government declared a state of emergency in July as waters rose to new heights, and some families temporarily evacuated. Members of Canada's military also came to help with the flood relief efforts. 

The Lemphers were the only ones given an evacuation order, meaning they had to leave their home for an extended period of time. Their order was lifted in August, but their contractors said they couldn't move back in until they could drain the water from the crawlspace under the house.

This is how the Lemphers' home looked at the height of the flood in July. (Gordon Loverin/CBC)

The Lemphers headed straight to their neighbour's house down the road after evacuating their home. Their plan was to live in their insulated garage until they could go home.

They spent 21 weeks and two days there, by Florian's count, before closing the door for the last time. 

Florian and a few contractors stand in the garage where the Lemphers have been living for the last five months. They're here to move the last few boxes back to their home. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"It was like coming home because I mean … we've known them for a long time, over three decades or four," Lemphers said. 

For most of their time in their neighbour's garage, the Lemphers just waited for the water levels to subside. For months, a team from Winmar property restoration ran dehumidifiers in the lodge's crawlspace to get the water to dissipate, but with no luck. Water levels only started to drop around the first week of October. 

A close up shot of the insulation in the Lemphers' crawlspace as damaged by the flood water. It took several months for water levels to subside enough so contractors could start replacing the insulation below their home. (Submitted by Florian Lemphers )

By then, all the insulation had to be ripped out from the house's crawlspace and reformed with a higher density foam. 

Steven Guenette, a junior project manager with Winmar, coordinated most of the repair on the Lemphers' home, and saw the project to its end by moving the last of Florian's boxes into the lodge this week. 

A contractor works on one of the walls of the Lemphers' place after the flood. (Submitted by Florian Lemphers)

Guenette said he believes this might be the most extensive flood repair job he's had to coordinate. 

So seeing the Lemphers finally able to come home, he said, is a good feeling. 

Steven Guenette, junior project manager at Winmar's, was in charge of most of the Lemphers home repair project — the most extensive flood damages he said he's ever dealt with. (Anna Desmarais/CBC )

"When I see them coming back into their home and … I see a smile on their face - It means that I did a good job and our crew did a good job," Guenette said. 

The Lemphers need a few days in their home to unpack all their moving boxes, so will be spending Christmas at their in-laws. They are also sending a special message to everyone who helped them, near and far, that they're not able to see in person. 

A photo of the Lemphers family. Florian said he's hoping to host people in his home again in the New Year, after unpacking all their moving boxes. (Submitted by Florian Lemphers )

"All I can think of is that line from the Christmas Carol where Tiny Tim says, God bless us, everyone," Lemphers said.

"The effect of those people showing up to volunteer and help just kept us going all these months."