A Tribute to Roblin’s Vision
Since its completion in 1968, the Red River Floodway has prevented over $10 billion in flood damages. It’s hard to imagine but before its construction, many people questioned the need for the project. Today, Manitobans are grateful to the vision and foresight of Charles Dufferin Roblin, the Manitoba Premier who spearheaded the project, and are building on his legacy through the expansion of the floodway.
It was during the spring of 1950, when Winnipeg experienced a flood that would eventually lead to the construction of the Red River Floodway. During the flood, a State of Emergency was declared and the Canadian Army was brought in to protect residents and property. Over the course of the flood 100,000 residents were evacuated from their homes. As the Red River rose much of Winnipeg was inundated with flood waters. The water stayed above flood stage for fifty one days resulting in the destruction of approximately 10,000 homes. Hospitals, schools and businesses were also devastated. Overall, it was estimated that the 1950 flood resulted in $125 million in damages (or estimated at $1 billion in today’s figures).
After reviewing the impact of the flood, Manitoba’s Premier, Duff Roblin, sparked the idea of constructing a diversion channel around Winnipeg that could be used during extreme flood emergencies. At the time, there were many people who questioned the need for the floodway. In fact the floodway was pejoratively nicknamed “Roblin’s Folly” by opponents of its construction. Nevertheless, and in face of this criticism, Premier Roblin pushed ahead with the project.
In 1959, Roblin, who was then the leader of a minority government, put his political career on the line by the making the floodway the key issue of the provincial election. That year, Roblin won the election and received a mandate to build the floodway.
Construction of the original floodway started on October 6th, 1962 and finished in March, 1968 at a cost of $63 million. It was a major undertaking, resulting in the excavation of approximately 76.5 million cubic metres of earth. At the time, the project was the second largest earthmoving project in the world – next only to the construction of the Panama Canal.
The floodway is an artificial flood control waterway that consists of a 47 km channel that, during flood periods, diverts part of the Red River’s flow around Winnipeg to the east and discharges back into the Red River near Lockport. It can carry floodwater at a rate of up to 1,700 cubic metres per second (m3/s) and provides a 1-in-90 year level of flood protection.
Since its construction, and subsequent first use in 1969, the floodway has been operated over 20 times and prevented over $10 billion in flood damages. In recent years, the floodway has not only protected Winnipeg during spring floods but has also been used during summer months to protect against basement flooding during emergency summer flood periods. As a result, today, the floodway is considered to be one of the most important infrastructure projects in Manitoba’s history and is affectionately called “Duff’s Ditch”.