The Flood of the Century changed the landscape of Manitoba and the lives of thousands of Manitobans.
“I remember it as a time of high tension, high emotion, and a tremendous sense that we have got to really do this right,” Gary Filmon said. For him, the spring of 1997 was a time he’ll never forget.
The former Manitoba premier spoke exclusively with 680 CJOB host Richard Cloutier about the weeks leading up to what is now known as the Flood of the Century.
“We weren’t looking at a huge potential flood early on, and I’m talking months ahead of time,” Filmon said.
“Then all of the sudden it hit the city of Grand Forks…and everyone had to re-calibrate, re-calculate and say ‘wait a second, this looks like it’s going to be way bigger than projected.'”
READ MORE: Timeline of 1997 flood in Grand Forks
Filmon received multiple flood updates each day, but said he tried early on to get out of the office and into affected communities.
“It was a calculated decision,” Filmon recalls. “I decided I needed to be at the most urgent points in the province, along the way, every day, so that I could reassure people everyone right up to the top was committed.”
As the waters continued to rise and more homes were lost, evacuations became a necessity to get Manitobans off land that was quickly being overflowed by water.
This week Filmon revealed a tense conversation with military officials over how they would best move Manitobans to safety after an evacuation order was issued.
“He said ‘I think it’s time you came out with an answer that said you’re out and that’s it’,” Filmon recalls.
As the conversation continued Filmon said he insisted people threatened by the water had spent their whole life building up their homes and defending them, officials couldn’t just go in there and pull them out.
“He said ‘my people don’t work on discretion they work on rules, it’s in or out’,” Filmon recalls. “I said General, that isn’t going to happen…what will it be, at gunpoint?’ And he said ‘if necessary’…and I said ‘General, that’s not going to happen.'”
More than 28,000 Manitobans were evacuated from several communities over the course of the flood, but Filmon said what stands out for him from that number is that there was also no loss of life.
“No loss of life and to this day, people marvel at that.”
To this day Filmon says a high point from his perspective was the final parade in May 1997 when the city gathered to thank the military.