By Connor Lynch and Patrick Meagher
OTTAWA — April showers and heavy rains in early May turned some low-lying crop fields into lakes in some areas of Eastern Ontario and pushed back planting season for many farmers by up to two weeks. Flooding also closed some back roads and the Cumberland Ferry east of Ottawa as the entire dock was completely underwater. The Quyon ferry west of Ottawa was expected to be closed for more than a month.
The downpour on farmland was a mere inconvenience compared to the destruction to homes caused by the rising of the Ottawa River — about two metres above normal by May 9 when the water level hit its peak. Cottages and the basements of hundreds of houses along the river were flooded to the east and west of urban Ottawa. Some streets turned into rivers. More than 500 houses were evacuated in rural Ottawa and Gatineau, Que. Many vehicles stranded in water became writeoffs. Quebec called in the army to help with evacuations from Gatineau to Montreal.
Adding to the melting snow and a wet April, Eastern Ontario residents saw one month’s worth of rain — 70 to 100 centimetres — in one 24-hour period on the May 6-7 weekend. Environment Canada issued rainfall warnings for 46 districts in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, and issued flood alerts in 12 more. And that wasn’t the end of it. More rain kept coming.
The situation got so bad for many homeowners that the Red Cross announced on May 18 that it would be giving $1 million to flood victims in Ontario and $3 million to those in Quebec.
Heading east of Ottawa in search of affected farmland on May 8, Farmers Forum first stopped at Rockland’s Voisine Road that was swallowed up by the Ottawa River. Dozens of volunteers filled sandbags that saved some of the 18 houses from flooding. But the street, under four feet of water, is a flood plain. One million-dollar home surrounded by a wall of sandbags was built there only two years earlier. A state of emergency was declared.
That same morning, a group of about eight Ottawa construction workers arrived at work and were told by their boss to turn around and head to Voisine Road. They spent hours on a barge, delivering gas cans to keep the houses running on generators.
Incredibly, in the early afternoon it began to snow. Volunteer Josh Sturgess said the flooding has been hard on homeowners here. He noted, “They haven’t slept in awhile. People are pretty stressed.”
Pockets of low lying farmland south of Rockland were also under water. A municipal drain in Carleton County just south of Navan, overflowed and flooded much of the 200 acres of Robert Laplante’s tile-drained land on both sides of Frank Kenney Road. The temporary lake filled with geese. Nine days later on May 15, the land was almost dry. Laplante was expecting to plant corn on the high spots by May 18. (See photo on A17)
It is not unusual for his low land to flood but this year is exceptional. “I’ve never seen it so bad,” he said. “I’ve never seen it that high.”
Laplante, who crops 1,400 acres and operates an 80,000-poultry (roasters) operation and processor, said that even on his low land he usually finishes planting by May 10.
Farther east, water surrounded dairy and crop farmer Doyle Harrigan’s farm on County Road 19 southwest of Curran, where he said the flooding has been the worst in years. (See photos on A16). Parts of many fields flooded three times, he said, thanks to the South Nation River backing up and overflowing into a creek and ditches. In total, about 100 acres were underwater in early March, then again in April, and finally the worst flooding came with more rain in early May, he said.
“This year hurt us the most because the flooding destroyed the hay crop that was growing,” he said, adding that normally he doesn’t get flooded so late in the year and usually has his corn in by May 5 or 6.
This year he started planting wheat and soybeans on May 17, ahead of corn and that “almost never happens.”
Here’s how other areas fared.
Champlain Township, east of the city of Ottawa declared a state of emergency on May 7. Residents were told not to drink their well water and some were told to leave their homes along the Ottawa River after a fuel spill.
Renfrew County saw heavy rainfall and the Bonnechere River overflowed. County water levels were at their highest since 1947 and were nearly a metre above their 12-year average. There was a flood warning for the entire Mississippi Valley on May 7.
A flood watch went out for the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario, warning residents in Belleville, on May 6. The Glenora Ferry was out of service due to the high water levels and strong winds.
Prince Edward County declared a state of emergency. Local dairy farmer Lee Nurse told Farmers Forum on May 9 that some fields washed out, holding back the hay crop.
The City of Peterborough offered sandbags to area residents and warned residents on wells to test the water before drinking. Residents south of the city’s primary wastewater treatment plant that draws water from the river were told to boil water before drinking.
Prescott-Russell and Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry both declared flood warnings in early April. Leeds-Grenville put out a flood warning on May 5.
Frontenac County dairy farmer Robert Sonneveld, who farms just north of Kingston, said on May 9 that some of his fields were under water the week before but were draining nicely. “There were fields nearly coming over the roads with water,” he said. But they drained quite well because they were all tile-drained. “It’s nothing like what’s along the Ottawa River,” he said.