The Red River flows right through the center of Winnipeg
In April of 1950, the Red River rose rapidly, peaking at 9.2 meters. 30.2 feet, and stayed above flood stage for 51 days. One third of Winnipeg's 300,000 residents were forced out of their homes.
An estimated 1400 square kilometers were flooded. One life was lost.
About 10,000 homes were destroyed and another 5000 were damaged during the 51 day flood. Floodwaters were 4.6 meters or 15 feet deep in some low lying areas.
The Canadian Army and Red Cross were deployed to Winnipeg to help the 100,000 displaced residents. Until 1979's Mississauga train derailment it was the largest evacuation in Canadian history.
The damage in 1950 was estimated at 1 billion dollars in today's figures.
Winnipeg was hit by severe floods again in 1997.
7,000 military personnel were employed for 36 days to help prevent flood damage and relocate over 25,000 evacuees.
The floodwater peaked even higher than it did in 1950.
This time Winnipeg was better prepared.
That might not have been the case if it weren't for one man.
Although it was agreed something had to be done to prevent a repeat of the 1950 disaster nobody was willing to stake their political future on what would undoubtedly be a costly project. One that may not reap political benefits for many years.
Enter Dufferin "Duff" Roblin. The Manitoban Premier pushed hard for what came to be known as the Red River Floodway. The basic concept was to divert some of the Red River around Winnipeg when the river levels rose too high for the cities primary dikes.
At the time it was coined "Duffs Ditch" by some, “Roblin’s Folly” by his opponents
But the Red River Floodway proved itself in the years to come. By some estimates, the massive project has saved between 10 and 40 billion dollars in damages so far.
Starting in 1962 the 47 kilometer project took 6 years to complete. At the time, excavation of the floodway channel was the second largest earth moving project in the world. Beat only by the Panama Canal. It was even larger than the Suez Canal project.
Had Roblin not been such a visionary and had the Floodway not been built, the next major flood, the "Flood of the Century" in 1997, would have surpassed Winnipeg's primary dike system by at least 2 meters.
It estimated the damage in 1997 would have exceeded 5 billion dollars.
The Red River Floodway has been used 20 times since it was built.