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Red River: Duff's Ditch

A Drain for the flood plain

More on the Red River:
Red River:
The Passageway to the prairies

Bison Hunters:
How the Métis dominated the bison hunt

Red River Colony:
A brave experiment in westward expansion

Dig at the Forks:
Unearthing Winnipeg's Human Heritage

Duff's Ditch:
A Drain for the flood plain

First Farmers:
Aboriginal people pioneered grain growing

Fish Tales:
Chasing catfish to track the river's health

Just Plains Folks:
Winnipeg welcomes the world

Trails to Rails:
Railways replace wagon routes

Prairie Sea:
The Great Flood of 1950

Economic exchanges among First Nations

Louis Riel leads the Red River Rebellion

Wagons West:
Red River carts tracked the grasslands

Years before the great flood of 1950, city engineers had calculated that a huge ditch could be dug around Winnipeg to divert floodwater around the city. The idea was scoffed at as too costly and the Manitoba government resisted taking action, even after the 1950 catastrophe.

In a campaign won partly on the promise of building flood protection, Duff Roblin was elected premier of Manitoba in 1958. Finally, in 1962 construction of the Floodway began. It was nicknamed “Duff's Ditch,” after the premier who had been its biggest promoter.

Officially-named the Greater Winnipeg Floodway, the trench diverts floodwater around the city and turns it back into the river near Lockport, north of Winnipeg.

To construct the Floodway, new highway and railroad bridges had to be built over the future trench so that traffic could continue uninterrupted when the old roads and rail lines were demolished.

Then, a growling bulldozer gouged out the first chunk of prairie soil on October 6, 1962. More earth was excavated and moved than was excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal. Hundreds of parcels of land, mostly farms, had to be taken over by the government where the Floodway was to be built.

The sides of the 48-kilometre-long channel were neatly sloped and grassed. While much land that previously had been used for growing grain was sacrificed, some of it was later used to grow hay.

Duff's Ditch was in service by spring of 1969. And just in time, too. The overflow of the Red River in 1969 was equal to that of 1950 in severity, but Duff's Ditch protected every basement in Winnipeg from a single drop of floodwater. The cost of construction was 63 million dollars — at the time, a lot of money, but a bargain compared to the flood damage it has prevented since.

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