Sunday, March 29, 2009

Valley Girl

The R.e.d Va.ll.ey, and the floods currently threatening it, are much on my mind at the moment.

See the maps? I may not live there anymore, but this is Home. My little corner of the world. And especially that corner where the R.e.d flows north across the Canadian border, where the borders of two states and one Canadian province meet in a "T."

I was born in Em.ers.on,, the town that sits right on that "T" -- literally, on the banks of the river. The hospital (which is still there, although now a personal care home & clinic) is just feet away from the protective dike that encircles the town, and from the road leading to the old railroad bridge (and from there, the old river road, out to my grandparents' farm). My sister & I used to hold our breath as our car went over the bridge. I felt that if the car fell into the water, if I was holding my breath, I could swim for the surface & to the riverbank. I still have dreams/nightmares about that bridge and trying to cross over it. It still exists, and I think you can walk over it, although car traffic has long since been diverted to a second bridge further downstream.

The land in the RRValley is flat as a pancake, which is why, when the river floods, it spreads out so widely. It is also some of the richest, most fertile land on the planet, which is why it was so attractive to the people who settled there.

My great-great grandparents (on my mother's father's side) arrived in Em.ers.on in June 1876. They wrote back to family members in Ontario about seeing Sitting Bull & his braves dancing in the streets under the stars. In 1879, they moved a few miles across the border into The farmhouse my great-great-grandfather built is still there, visible from the highway -- although it was badly damaged during the last big flood in 1997, and may not survive another.

My paternal grandparents were married in the river town of Le.tell.ier in the 1920s, and bought a farm just outside of Em.ers.on in the late 1940s. My dad remembers being evacuated during the big flood of 1950. After the flood of 1966 flooded them out, my grandparents built a new house on higher ground on their property.

I knew all this. I knew the river was there. But I was a teenager before I actually went into the pasture behind the barn on my grandparents' farm & realized the river was RIGHT THERE. ("We wanted it that way," my mother said -- meaning she didn't want us roaming around & getting too close to the muddy waters.)

After the 1966 floods, the province took action, building ring dikes around many of the small towns along the river/Highway 75. The house that was my very first home, on the main street of town, as well as my aunt's house on the next street over, were among many that were as torn down to make way for the dike.

The city of Winnipeg built a floodway which, during particularly bad flood seasons, can be opened up and divert the rising river waters around the eastern side of the city. It was nicknamed "Duff's Ditch" after Premier Duff Roblin (the Canadian equivalent of state governor) who insisted that it be built. Duff had the last laugh, & was invited to open the floodway gates during the last big flood in 1997. The floodway has proven its value many times over since it was completed, & is recognized as an engineering marvel. A recent Globe & Mail story noted that, in the 40-some years since it was built, the floodway has been opened 20 times, saving $10-billion in flood damages, according to government estimates. It was expanded again after the 1997 flood.

I had been singing "R.ed V.all.ey" ("Just remember the R.ed V.all.ey... and the girl who has loved you so true") for years before I learned there was another R.ed R.ive.r V.all.ey -- in Texas, I think? For me, this is THE Valley... & I am still the girl who loves her. : ) I can remember standing at the site of the farm where my grandfather grew up (across the field from the one in the photo above) on a chilly but sunny October day in 1998, helping my mother and some other relatives scatter some of his ashes there, as he had requested. I've moved many times in my life, but as I looked around me , at the land my ancestors had settled more than 100 years before, where I spent so much of my time visiting relatives as I grew up -- I knew in my heart -- this is home.

To see what others are showing & telling this week, hop over here.


  1. This is really fascinating and just heart-breaking beautiful, Loribeth. Thank you for sharing. The photo of the farmhouse just knocks the wind out of me.

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  3. What a wonderful S&T. Love the pics and story.

  4. What a great story and history lesson.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story .. the picture of the farm house really touched me its beautiful!

  6. Thanks for posting this, Loribeth. My own little home corner of the world is a river valley too (Rock River into the Mississippi). It was flooded last weekend. What an anxious thing it is to have something so beloved creeping up on you.

    I feel awful for the Red River residents, fighting the floods in such bitter cold.

  7. We sang that song in school and I always thought it was strictly a Canadian River. And when we were teenagers, we'd hum that song when we got our periods.

    Thanks for sharing your history.

  8. I so appreciate this in-depth look at such a history-rich place.

    What a wonderful place for family roots.

    Looks like a good place for leg warmers, too!

  9. I know the feeling: I have the same sense here, in the Midwestern US, especially at twilight, when you look across a big field toward a treeline and watch the fireflies rise...

  10. What a great post - thanks for sharing!

    The residents of Red River Valley have been in my thoughts alot lately. It breaks my heart they are on the 'waiting list' for federal help to a problem everyone *knew* would happen again.

  11. That is amazingly interesting. Is that house still in the family?

    And I tagged you on my blog. just now. I am sure you can find a photo with an interesting story.

  12. Beautiful, heartbreaking pictures. I've been praying so hard for all of those affected by the floods. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  13. I also was born in Emerson. Lived there from 1960 until 1975. I remember them building a dike around our house in 1966 all through the night and eventually being evacuated to Winnipeg for 2 weeks. Flood time as a kid was my favorite time of the year. Do I know you?

  14. dgz_400 -- probably not. I was born in Emerson in 1961 & we moved from there in 1963. But it's possible you went to school with some of my cousins who lived in & around there!

  15. I was also born in Emerson in 1959. My parents were American and I grew up over the border in St. Vincent, MN, but it was the closest hospital. I always felt a citizen of two countries. Back in the day we were waved through the border! Those days are long I remember the old iron bridge well, with it's "Walk your horses and keep to the right" sign, and feeling the same way when my Mom drove me over it, wondering if we'd make it! Come read my local history blog about St. Vincent, Pembina, Emerson and more sometime, at