THE 1826 FLOOD
After the Deluge Some Settlers Left While Others Stayed
By George Siamandas
1825 A VERY GOOD YEAR
It had been a very good year at Red River. The community was growing and upgrading itself. Forty-two new homes were built in six months. The severe mouse infestation had been the only discouraging event.
The problems had begun during the winter. There had been a giant snow during December 1825. The Metis and Indians wintering in Pembina were near starvation. Ross visited Pembina in February and saw it first hand. A relief effort by individuals and the HBC sent many dog teams south with food and supplies. But many perished, especially in the harsh winter that year. Those that were found alive had devoured their horses, dogs, raw hides, leather and their shoes. The winter continued to bring much snow and temperatures reaching -45. The ice was five feet seven inches thick.
THE WATER RISES
On May 2 the water rose 9 feet in 24 hours. On May 4 the river overflowed its banks. On the 5th all the settlers abandoned the colony seeking higher ground. The river would rise for 20 days and in places the settlement had a depth of water estimated at 16 feet. What did they save? First came the cattle then the grain, furniture and utensils. The water reached so high people had to break through the roofs of their houses to salvage what they could. Meanwhile ice flows cut everything in their path.
Ross had a boat ready behind his house on he Red River at Point Douglas. As they got into the ark their belongings were flushed out of the house, as he was unable to close the door. They made way to a barn that was above water and joined a group of 50 people trying to escape the sudden waters. They fled west along the Assiniboine to Sturgeon Creek. The water continued to rise till the 21st. It was not until June 15th that they could return. Only one life was lost. But the mosquitoes after were unbearable.
STAY OR GO?
On May 22 the men called a council to consider whether they should move. Opinion at Red River was divided. The differences between the De Meurons and Scottish settlers became quite marked. The De Meurons were mercenaries who had fought in the war of 1812 had been brought to Red River by Selkirk in 1816 to help keep the peace. Ross talks critically of the De Meurons who stole their cattle and gathered their floating possessions selling them back to the settlers at high prices. On June 24, 1826, 243 Swiss De Meurons, or half the colony, left for the United States. The Swiss were encouraged on their way with free food. They would eventually settle on the Mississippi. The Scots however vowed to stay. Not so easily chilled by disappointments, they would start again on bare ground. Having survived fire, famine, warfare, grasshoppers and now a devastating flood, they still saw their future here. And here they would build their futures, in defiance of all obstacles. By 1830 the community had been completely re-established with 204 new houses being built.
ROSS' ANALYSIS OF THE FLOOD
The previous fall had been wet; the winter saw lots of snow. There was a sudden melt, and fanned by strong south winds, the ice flow blocked the path to Lake Winnipeg. When the ice broke up at Lake Winnipeg, the flood eased at Red River. Ross closes by saying what has happened once may happen again. Mr. Nolin who had come to the are in the 1770s says that in 1776 the flood was even higher. Other bad flood years according to the Indians included 1790, and 1809. Ross would also live through the almost as bad 1852 flood.