‘We’ll be stronger for it’: a message of hope from a woman who lived through one of Manitoba’s worst natural disasters

By | April 13, 2020

WINNIPEG — A person who lived through one of Manitoba’s worst natural disasters has a message of hope for the province caught in the middle of a global pandemic — life will return to normal, eventually.

In the spring of 1950, the province was facing one of the worst floods in its history. For Winnipegger Kathleen Ames, who was in her twenties at the time, it felt like life would never go back to normal. The city was under water — thousands of homes were destroyed and businesses had been shut down.

“It was a really eerie time,” said Ames, who is now 91 years old. “It was really, really frightening because, you know, the whole city kind of went down — just like it is now.”

ON THE FRONTLINES OF THE FLOOD

Ames said she had been on the frontlines of the flood effort, sandbagging around her brother’s house in East Kildonan, when the dike they had been working on collapsed.

INTERACTIVE: Inside one of Manitoba’s greatest natural disasters

She remembers running back to her brother’s house as sirens, which warned when a dike broke, went off. They were told to smash the windows to the basement to protect the foundation, grab what they could and head for higher ground.

“It was very scary because, you know, we could see the water coming behind us,” Ames said. “It wasn’t roaring yet or anything. It was just kind of wet in front of you, and then all of a sudden when you turned around there was more and more of it.”

The province estimates more than 100,000 people were evacuated due to the flood.

A MESSAGE OF HOPE AMID A PANDEMIC

The province estimates the flood caused about $125.5 million in damages, about $1 billion in today’s figures. Despite the enormous amount of damage, Ames said the city was able to rebuild.

1950 Flood Gallery

View of flooded homes in the Fort Rouge area in 1950. (Source: Province of Manitoba)

“Lucky enough, when the water went down, things went fairly quickly back to normal,” she said. “People all worked really hard to get rid of all the sandbags and clean up the city.”

Ames said people eventually returned to their normal lives. She married her boyfriend later that year in June.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up memories of the flood for Ames, who says she’s recognized the similarities between the pandemic and the flood.

“Sometimes these really frightening things come up, but you got to face it,” Ames said. “As long as you follow the rules – which I always believe you’re supposed to do – things will work out and it will go back.”

“It may take a long time, but I think we’ll go back and maybe we’ll even be stronger for it.” 

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