Thunder Bay

Woman in northwestern Ontario turns to paddling as Rainy Lake waters continue to rise

With rising water levels cutting off access to her Mine Centre home, Rebecca Maclean has resorted to unusual measures to get to work every morning.

National Weather Service in U.S. says lake expected to reach record levels later this week

Rebecca Maclean and daughter Kerrigan canoe across flood waters at Bear's Pass on Rainy Lake east of Fort Frances on Monday. They're on their second week of having to row across to reach their vehicle. (Submitted by Rebecca Maclean)

With rising water levels cutting off access to her home in Mine Centre, Ont., Rebecca Maclean has resorted to unusual measures to get to work every morning.

Maclean has been using her kayak and canoe to access her vehicle, parked on the other side of the flooded road in front of her house.

"This is not our first rodeo with flooding," said Maclean, who lives at Bear's Pass on Rainy Lake, east of Fort Frances. "We did have flooding in 2002, and at that point in time, I didn't have a child, so I just waded every day and the water was up ... to basically mid-thigh."

"Then we had flooding again in 2014," she said. "I had my daughter at that point, so I couldn't exactly wade through the water with her."

"So we put our canoe in and started canoeing back and forth. And in the last couple of years, I got a kayak and I thought, well, that's a lot easier to lug down to the road than the canoe was. So I started kayaking."

Maclean, a teacher, said she's been watching the water rise for the last few weeks. Currently, the water on the road is about 20 inches deep in some places, and Maclean keeps her vehicle parked on the opposite side of the road, on higher ground.

Data from the U.S. National Weather Service shows Rainy Lake levels are expected to rise eight to 11 inches between May 30 and June 5.

It's expected that the lake will reach the record set in 1950 — 339.23 metres — by this weekend.

The National Weather Service states the rate the water is rising at will slow down next week, but water levels will continue to rise until mid June "regardless of the precipitation," and will continue to "cause extensive damage" to docks and shoreline property.

"Areas currently experiencing flooding and having to perform mitigation measures will likely continue to deal with these issues for the foreseeable future," the weather service said.

Neil Thorpe, who owns the Landing outfitter lodge on Rainy Lake's Red Gut Bay, is also seeing the effects of the rising water levels, which are affecting access to his business.

'Mother Nature's really being mean'

"Our road access is now under 20 inches of water," he said. "Any customers that are coming up are scared to death when they get there."

"All around our yard to access our cabins and stuff, we're dealing with a minimum of a foot of water."

The cabins themselves, he said, are dry, as are the septic fields, but docks are under water, and power to the submerged gas pump has been shut off.

"We can't operate," he said. "Mother Nature's really being mean this year."

Cabin bookings are being transferred to 2023, Thorpe said.

Thorpe said he's lived in the area for more than three decades, and he's never flooding this bad.

"I don't predict any tourist season, but I just want to see the water go down," he said. "After you have a flood like this, the ground is all a mess."

"We're used to having the grass cut looking like a park in here, and it'll be a big mud hole when this is done."