Early settlers in Manitoba were familiar with the Red River’s capacity for destruction. Named Miscousipi (Red Water River) by the Cree, it flooded in 1826 and forced the evacuation of an entire colony.
Residents of Winnipeg, which is situated on the banks of the mighty river, endured floods in 1950, 1966 and 1979 and 2009. But they paled in comparison to the flood of 1997, the worst in 171 years.
In North Dakota, Minnesota and Southern Manitoba, the banks of the storied river overflowed that year, thanks to a long, cold winter in the previous months and extreme temperatures.
The entire Red River Valley was drenched, and residents of Fargo, Grand Forks, in North Dakota, and Winnipeg suffered the consequences.
The water level rose to 7.5 metres in Manitoba’s capital, which was saved from complete disaster by various flood control structures – all of which were pushed to their limits.
Almost 30,000 people had to be evacuated, and the city suffered $500-million in damages.
The city’s flood information page on the Internet was accessed more than143,000 times during the crisis, with 14,800 hits on May 1st alone.
The community of Ste. Agathe, located just 40 kilometres south of Winnipeg, suffered a serious blow.
The town’s dike system protected it against flooding from the south but the 1997 flood was so severe, water approached the town from West. The town’s residents struggled to stay afloat, literally and figuratively, as the so-called “Red Sea” washed over their homes and businesses.
The grave situation in southern Manitoba forced provincial officials to call in the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
When the water finally receded, the “flood of the century” had caused about $3.5 billion (U.S.) in damages.