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Red River Resourcefulness in 1852

by Margaret Arnett MacLeod

Manitoba Pageant, April 1958, Volume 3, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

There were floods then, as now. In spring the Red and Assiniboine Rivers sometimes overflowed at their juncture, inundating the country for miles around, with much consequent suffering and loss. Homes were destroyed and buildings carried away, but it is an interesting fact that those who had belonged to the country for generations, and thus knew what to do in such a circumstance, suffered little.

An old woman told me of the flood of 1852 when she was a child, a flood that did a great deal of damage. In March her grandfather, watching the signs so well known to these native people, informed the family there was going to be a flood. Selecting the highest spot on their land, he went away every day and, with help, began to build a house there. Between four well-branched trees, the largest he could find, he built a house big enough for the family to live in, and plastered and waterproofed it so it would float. The family then moved in with all their worldly goods. When the flood came, the house rose as the water rose, but it remained anchored safely between the four trees.

The family lived there in comfort, coming and going in their dugout canoe. Every day the old grandfather went off and brought back firewood secured from the tops of trees in high places, and the members of the household never once missed Mass on Sundays! They went to the St. Boniface Cathedral of the poet Whittier's "turrets twain," which being on high ground, had water only to the doors. They tied their canoe at the church steps and each Sunday they watched the high-water mark there; and my informant told me of their joy on the first Sunday when they found it had lowered.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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