Down by the river, 3 neighbours take flood-proofing into their own hands

Three homeowners with waterfront property on the Gatineau River have come up with three different solutions to the perennial flooding threat they face.

Their waterfront properties flooded twice in 3 years, homeowners sought permanent solutions

Thomas Little will dismantle his modular aluminum wall later this month and complete landscaping work on his yard, which overlooks the Gatineau River. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Three neighbours with waterfront property on the Gatineau River have come up with three different solutions to the perennial flooding threat they face.

Louis Guay suffered thousands of dollars in damage when flood waters rose in 2017, only to suffer the same fate two years later.

"In 2017, right where I am right now, I had waist-deep water," said Guay, standing in his yard on rue Cartier, within view of the Alonzo-Wright Bridge.

Guay's riverfront house was lifted 1.5 metres at a cost of $350,000. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Last July, after 14 months spent wrangling over the plans with the province, workers began the job of elevating his home a metre and a half. The lift and the new foundation took eight months and cost a staggering $350,000, with the province chipping in just over half.

"Our financial situation is very much changed, but at the same time we're alive and still have a nice space to take care of. It's better than a lot of other people," Guay reasoned.

While the river never tested Guay's expensive new defences this spring, there's no question in his mind that he made the right choice.

Flooding damaged Louis Guay's home in 2017, and again in 2019. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Peace of mind

Thomas Little, Guay's neighbour immediately to the north, might have done the same thing, but no engineer could work out how to lift his rambling, 7,000-square-foot house in one piece.

​​​Little, who showed off his calloused and bandaged hands to CBC in 2017, had also had enough of gas-powered pumps and temporary sandbag solutions.

"It was a horrible spring, cold, waist-deep in cold water, watching the wall 24/7," he recalled.

WATCH: How one Gatineau homeowner is taking flood prevention into his own hands 

How one Gatineau homeowner is taking flood prevention into his own hands

3 years ago
Duration 1:23
Thomas Little, who had to scramble to save his home by the Gatineau River during floods in 2017 and 2019, has installed a two-metre high aluminum wall along the length of his property.

Little's two-metre sandbag wall eventually gave way to the rising river that spring, and rushing flood water filled two bedrooms in his home, wreaking $60,000 in damage.

In 2019, Little hired labourers to build a thick dike of 25,000 sand bags. Again, the pumps ran night and day to keep the water out, and while he avoided similar damage to his home that spring, the labour, equipment rentals and fuel cost him $20,000. 

Little knew he needed to do something drastic if he was going to avoid future catastrophe, not to mention salvage his property value. 

Little's German-made wall is made of aluminum and steel parts. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A costly solution

Today, a gleaming, two-metre aluminum wall runs the entire 40-metre length of his property's shoreline.

It wasn't cheap. The German-made panels and their galvanized steel columns form a watertight barrier, but cost Little $44,000. Add a concrete retaining wall, landscaping and a system of underground pumps, and the total cost of the flood-proofing project approaches $100,000. 

But Little believes it's worth it. The wall can be dismantled in a few hours, preserving his cherished view of the river throughout most of the year. And the peace of mind? Priceless.

"I'll never touch another sandbag as long as I live," Little said.

He's also inspired his neighbour to the north, Jocelyn Filiatreault, whose wall rises as high as Little's, but cost considerably less.

A worker completes the installation of Jocelyn Filiatreault's new hemlock flood wall. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'I can sleep'

Instead of importing expensive aluminum panels, Filiatreault built his modular barrier using thick timbers milled from Outaouais hemlock, held in place with steel supports. Any water that seeps in is pumped back into the river. Total cost: about $10,000.

Like Little's dike, Filiatreault's will only be erected during peak flood season, and will be kept in storage the rest of the year. 

"It takes a few hours to install, then [my house is] protected — and I can sleep," Filiatreault said. "I think it's important that we take our destiny in our own hands."

Now, Guay said, all three homeowners can stay where they are instead of moving to higher ground.

"There are not too many people that think that way. We're attached to our land. This was a life dream to be able to be near the water."

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