Quebec priest impressed by teamwork in flood-threatened community

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A flooded street in Laval, Que., is closed May 16. Photo: Celine Bisson/Shutterstock
A flooded street in Laval, Que., is closed May 16. Photo: Celine Bisson/Shutterstock

The rector of an Anglican parish on the Ottawa River near Montreal says she’s impressed by how people worked together to save the homes of others threatened by recent flooding.

“It was people from all different organizations, and different groups, and different individuals coming together, and it was like clockwork,” says the Rev. Sophie Rolland, rector of the parish of Vaudreuil, which includes the churches of St. James in Hudson, Que., and St. Mary in nearby Como, Que. “Everyone got together to help, but most people didn’t have that imminent threat…It was really just concern for the few that did.”

Thousands of people in southern Quebec were driven from their homes in early May as rain-swollen rivers overflowed their banks. As recently as Monday, May 22, the Canadian Red Cross estimated more than 5,000 families were still homeless.

Rolland says Hudson and Como were less threatened than other more densely populated and low-lying areas, such as parts of Montreal. Nevertheless, she says, the experience of watching water levels threateningly rising, essentially beyond human control, was often a stressful experience.

“It’s just terrifying when the waters come up,” she says. “You can’t do anything, apart from putting sandbags around things. All you’re doing is watching the water…and you just realize how strong water is. That when it wants to come, it will just come.

“When we were in the middle of it, no one knew when it would crest or how far it would get up.”

On one particularly nail-biting day the water rose four feet (1.2 metres), she says.

Rolland and at least 10 other people from her largely elderly parish joined the volunteers organized by the town, helping with sandbagging and also providing food for other volunteers.

One restaurant, she says, on two separate occasions provided enough pasta and stew for 200 volunteers.

People realized they needed to make sure that those who were especially frantic about the state of their houses looked after themselves.

“It was just getting that food out to people who needed it, because, especially if it was your house [threatened], you got into a panic situation, so you would forget to eat or you would forget to rest.”

By last Wednesday, May 17, cleanup efforts were underway, she says.

Some parishioners also volunteered to help in other, harder-hit communities, she says.

By the time the crisis was over, about 100 houses in the Hudson and Como area had been affected in some way by flooding, with about six or seven of them belonging to parishioners. Most of the damaged houses will likely be saved, she says, but one or two may no longer be habitable.

The flood is said to have been the worst to have hit the area in many decades—perhaps even a century, but Rolland says most people she’s spoken to are convinced global climate change is involved, and few seem to think it will be another hundred years before a similar flood hits.

“I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks that it’s going to be like, ‘We’ll just rebuild and it’s going to be fine for another hundred years,’ ” she says. “This is a foretaste.”

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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