Flooding, pandemic hit Minnedosa hard

Michčle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

September 6, 2020, 4:33 pm

Jesse Hunt walks his bike through flood water inundating Main Street in Minnedosa after heavy downpours this summer caused widespread flooding. The swollen Little Saskatchewan River overflowed into downtown Minnedosa flooding several businesses and residences.

Two months after catastrophic rains and flooding, the citizens of Minnedosa, as well as its businesses, are still living with the effects.

Tourism was definitely down this summer in this normally busy southwestern Manitoba tourist mecca, but Mayor Pat Skatch said it’s hard to tell in some cases which effects are due to COVID-19 and which are due to the flooding.

Regardless of flooding, Minnedosa events had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, though Skatch recognizes that’s the case with all communities.

"We couldn’t go ahead with our festivals. We couldn’t go ahead with our Manitoba 150 celebrations. All of that because of the nature of the year," Skatch said.

"Between the two — COVID-19 and flooding — there were a lot of tourism things that got cancelled."

The Minnedosa District Museum and Heritage Village, as well as the local library, had flood damage, and neither were open during the summer months. The Minnedosa Beach Campground had a good year, even with COVID-19 protocols, as did the Splish Splash Water Park, though the owner of the water park shut down early this year, before Labour Day weekend.

As for municipal projects, engineers have been out to see the damage. They will be returning to look at municipal buildings.

"All that is positive, and it’s looking good. I feel good about it. I think we’ll still be dealing with some of it in the spring. But, on the whole, the community is starting to look pretty good," Skatch said.

But the town is waiting on financial help from the provincial and federal governments, as are residents.

Residents have been restoring damaged homes, Skatch said, but some aren’t doing as much as they might because they are waiting to learn whether or not a Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) program will kick in.

"I just had a resident tell me today she had a phone call about the DFA and she was quite excited about it. But she was saying the government still has to do the final decision-making," Skatch said.

Businesses are open and dealing with both COVID-19 and the flood restoration, while reeling from the financial effects of both.

Meaghan Cann, who owns Farmhouse 50, is also the Minnedosa Chamber of Commerce vice-chair.

To her knowledge, the only Main Street business that remains empty or closed is enJoy Salon & Spa. Located on the Main Street block nearest the Little Saskatchewan River, it had to be gutted when the river flooded the downtown area. Cann said the stylists are now operating in other locations.

"They got quite substantially affected," she said.

Cann’s own business, Farmhouse 50 — a restaurant and specialty shop — remained closed for two weeks after the flooding. She estimates approximately $30,000 to $40,000 in damage.

"We really have no idea of the formal loss. We were told not to do any of that until the government contacted us regarding the DFA," Cann said.

"I know other places in town had more substantial loss than we had. I know our local ski hill, I heard through the grapevine, had suffered substantial damage. Even though they are not right in town, they are one of our chamber members and an important part of our community and our local economy."

COVID-19 and flooding meant stop and start, then slow down again, for business owners as 2020 evolved. For several weeks after re-opening post-flood, Cann continued to receive messages asking whether Farmhouse 50 was open.

"Yes, we’re open. Please come," Cann said.

"When you close for a period of time, it’s definitely not right back to normal. It takes a lot of time, work and advertising to get to that point again. I can say we’re not there, yet."

Cann said it has been disheartening, and that spirits in Minnedosa’s business community go up and down, often depending on what new rules and restrictions the province releases.

"Some are pretty optimistic, others are a lot more discouraged," she said.

Skatch said the community is awesome and moving forward. Cann expressed the same sentiment, and said the chamber is doing everything it can to support businesses. It meets regularly, discussing how it can directly assist members.

"We’re currently working on constructing a series of videos that will kind of support our local chamber businesses in town and provide them with some necessary advertising and exposure on social media and kick-start business again," Cann said.

Meanwhile, despite the fact Premier Brian Pallister told The Brandon Sun on Aug. 12 that the province would be supporting a Disaster Financial Assistance program through a partnership with the federal government, people are still being told a decision on that hasn’t been made.

The Sun asked Manitoba Infrastructure how many applications it had received from people, businesses and municipal governments related to the late-June flooding event.

"A number of private-sector DFA applications have been received and will continue to be received on an ongoing basis. To date, 26 municipalities have identified impacts related to this event," the department stated.

When asked for more detail, the department stated: "We are referring to local authorities that have indicated that they have impacts from the events. We are not referring to applications received."