1997 Flood: Z Dike saves Winnipeg, farmland still not recovered 20 years later
BRUNKILD, Man. — The Flood of the Century was a trying time for many battling the rising waters and this week marks 20 years since the water moved north, creating the worst flood in the province in 145 years.
It forced flood officials here to think fast and construct a massive dike near Brunkild, called the Z Dike, to keep the water from entering the city.
Twenty years may have passed, but that moment is still fresh in the minds of those who built it and those who still live there.
“The idea at the time was that we have to block the La Salle River off,” said Don Kuryk, the former Emergency Measures Coordinator who helped coordinate the project.
Over 300 backhoes, graders, and tractors from across the province quickly invaded the fields and farmyards near Brunkild.
They rushed to build an eight meter high dike made of clay and crushed rock stretching 24 kilometers.
“Everyone talks about it every year here,” said resident Brett LeClair, who was seven at the time.
“Every April we’re always wondering if we’re going to get a huge snowfall every year.”
WATCH: Archived footage of the 1997 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota
Flood waters were coming fast from the south, threatening to enter the La Salle River which would hit Winnipeg and bypass the floodway.
“If you think of what could have happened to Winnipeg if it got to that level it would be devastating,” said Kuryk.
What should have taken months to build took only weeks. They even used old cars and buses to break strong waves.
“It was quite a time, quite a time,” recalled Larry Whitney, the provincial spokesperson during the flood. He remembers putting on a brave face every day while speaking to media and officials but couldn’t help but feel worried. He remembers the Z Dike idea came together within days.
“There were no plans, there was no budget just get it done,” said an emotional Whitney from his living room in Winnipeg.
The clay and mud used for the dike came from seed farmer, Calvin Pitura’s land.
“In a very short period of time they constructed a very impressive dike,” said Pitura.
When it was over, flood waters didn’t reach much of the dike. Till this day, Pitura says the land still hasn’t recovered.
“Here we’re 20 years in and our yields are still two thirds of what the adjoining land that was not affected by construction,” said Pitura, who is still waiting for compensation from the province after the Z Dike was re-enforced in 2008.
If another 1997 flood occurred Kuryk says they would not have to build another Z Dike because the road where the dike sat has now been built up high enough to protect Winnipeg.
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