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Remembering Floods


Michael Rustad


 I do not have a present memory of the 1950 flood which hit theRed River

Valley with unbelievable fury.  Dotty Boatz sent me a news itemrecently

which reported that Virgil Bockwitz helped RRV residents by shuttlingpeople

and Red Cross supplies.  Virgil lent his truck and his servicesto Pembina

helping out in his characteristic way.  He was rewarded by law enforcement

officials with a $500 fine for crossing international borders when he

chartered the stranded to Winnipeg. The 1948 Flood did not flood Pembinalike

the 1950 flood.  I remember seeing photographs of relatives in Armyducks.  

Most of the roads were washed out.  Ninety percent of town was flooded.The

tracks from Noyes to St. Vincent were lost.  Old timers spoke ofthe Flood of

1897 as having completing flooded Pembina.  During the 1897 flood,there were

still steamboats coming from Grand Forks on the Red River Valley  Priorto

1897, the year 1852 was a high watermark.  Charles Cavileer, Collectorof

Customs noted that the residents of Pembina fled for high land whichwas the

Turtle Mountains.  By eastern standards, the Turtle Mountains weremore like

mounds.  Thousands of buffalo joined the group of pioneers.   


Perhaps, the first flood that I really remember was 1966.   Ourentire high

school spent many days helping the residents of Noyes, Hallock, and Pembina

sandbagging.  There is something incredibly exciting about highwater.  

Fighting the flood of 1966 was a very exciting experience.  It washard work

and all of the high school kids were released from school.  I spenttime

sandbagging in Hallock, Noyes, and Pembina.  In those days we didnot have

walkmans or boom boxes.  We would listen to radio programs fromWinnipeg

while we worked.  This was one of the first years of the Britishinvasion in

rock, so we all listened to Herman's Hermits, the Rolling Stones andthe

Byrds.  Hallock held a huge part at the high school for all of thekids who

helped save the town from the Two Rivers.  They had a band probablybooked by

Don Hunt.  All of the Mothers, merchants, and town pitched in forone of the

best parties that I remember as a teenager.


The 1966 flood did not come close to the devastation faced by Grand

Forks and other area communities in 1997.  Pembina was saved thoughthe dike

system was said not to have the capacity to withstand this 100 year flood.My

sister Jamie and her family evacuated.  My nieces and nephews couldnot

attend school in Pembina for a number of days.  I believe that theyattended

school in Cavalier until Pembina was safe.   When I was homein the Summer of

1999, I walked along the Pembina Flood Wall which has changed the character

of the town entirely.  Pembina is now bifurcated into the NorthPembina and

the rest of the town.  The familiar bridge linking Pembina and St.Vincent

has long since been destroyed.   As a child, I remember eatingat Shorts Cafe

on the St. Vincent side and walking across the bridge into Pembina.  Short's

Cafe was once called the First and Last Chance Saloon during the daysthat

St. Vincent was a vital center.   


Grand Forks has still not recovered by the big flood.   GrandForks was

always a vital community and fought hard against the raging waters.  Isaw

Grand Forks burn on CNN.  I recognized the burning Grand Forks Heraldand the

burned shopping area which I loved.  In the summer of 1999, I touredthe

Lincoln Park area and saw that many of the ruined homes were still nottorn

down.  Grand Forks was not yet on its feet.  The abandonedhomes showed signs

of surliness and unpleasantness.  One home threatened anyone whotouched

anything with death.  My only loss in this latest flood was my coin

collection and some of my childhood treasures which were kept by my brother

Tony in his basement.  Tony lost everything in his basement.  Afterthe

waters receded, there were huge piles of garbage for many weeks.  Thewater

supply was still suspect.  


This Sunday the Grand Forks Herald ran a feature which confirmed thatGrand

Forks was still not fully recovered from the flood.

People in the east always ask me why Grand Forks was rebuilt after theflood

given that floods are such a regular event.  I think that Red RiverValley

residents are resigned to hard times.  The weather in the UpperRed River

Valley is as harsh as Siberia.  When local residents were interviewedby the

national media during the flood, you saw a stoic, resigned group of citizens

willing to start all over again.  In contrast,  you will see Massachusettsor

New Yorkers cry and whine when they are interviewed in similar straights. 

The one incident that troubled me was a farmer interviewed at his Adafarm.  

He was struggling to save his cattle that had fallen through the ice. When he

lost a few of his calves, he broke down and cried. In each flood, theresidents

of Pembina maintained their morale despite incredibly difficult conditions. 

Grand Forks does not seem to have the same resilency.  One of mymemories

of the Red River Valley is that it could rise very quickly changing livesin its path.   


Prof. Michael Rustad, 28 Jan 2001

p;One of mymemories

of the Red River Valley is that it could rise very quickly changing livesin its path.   


Prof. Michael Rustad, 28 Jan 2001