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Tom Dennis

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reflections on Duff's Ditch

GRAND FORKS – In the spring of 1997, after the Red River Floodway had diverted floodwaters around Winnipeg and saved the city an estimated $4 billion in damages, an elderly gentleman walked into a Winnipeg restaurant.

“The entire restaurant clientele rose as if one in a standing ovation,” a Maclean’s magazine columnist wrote.

The honored gent was Duff Roblin, who, as Manitoba’s premier from 1958 to 1967, had championed the floodway project and seen it through to near-completion.

But what a change the applause represented from Roblin’s time in office.

Back then, as a 2001 story from Manitoba History recounted, “Manitobans were strongly divided as to whether the province could afford the capital costs of a mammoth engineering project that would benefit primarily Winnipeg.”

The project was “vehemently denounced by opponents as a monumental, and potentially ruinous, waste of money,” the story continued.

“Indeed, the projected Red River Floodway was derisively referred to as ‘Duff”s Folly’ and ‘Duff’s Ditch’, and decried as ‘approximating the building of the pyramids of Egypt in terms of usefulness.’”

Of course, the floodway quickly proved its worth, as “the decade after 1968 saw a trend toward an increased frequency and severity of flooding,” Manitoba History continued.

Having diverted floodwaters in 1969, 1970, 1974, 1979, 1991, 1994, 1996 and 1997, among other years, the project is credited with preventing more than $40 billion in flood damage in Winnipeg since 1968.

There are no guarantees that the Fargo-Moorhead diversion – the “son of Duff’s Ditch” – will rival its parent in effectiveness. But I wouldn’t be surprised, and if floodwaters start skirting the metro as routinely as happens up north, count on Fargo-Moorhead residents to one day regard their canal as affectionately as Winnipeggers do Duff’s Ditch.

Good reading,

Tom Dennis

I welcome your feedback and story ideas. Call me at 701-780-1276 or email me at tdennis@prairiebusinessmagazine.com.

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