Canoeing isn’t considered a popular activity in April – unless you’re the Riggins family in Goulais.
What's normally a fun outdoors hobby has become more of a seasonal routine for Goulais residents Jay and Robin Riggins, a married couple who spent several days canoeing to and from their home following last week’s flooding.
Living just off of Pine Shores Road around two kilometres in from Highway 17, the Riggins’ schedule is nearly back to normal after much of the unorganized township – and their neighbourhood – ended up walloped by several feet of water.
“This year’s flood was slightly above average since I’ve moved here,” Jay Riggins says.
A construction retiree, Jay purchased the Byes Side Road residence in the summer of 2000 but says he wasn’t told the house was situated on a floodplain.
“After I bought it, I met the neighbours a couple months later, and I said, ‘I’m glad it doesn’t flood here much,’ and they started laughing.”
Unprepared for what was to come that first year, Riggins estimates he lost over $10,000 worth of tools and supplies in his first go with a ruthless Goulais flood.
“Not knowing how often it did that, I left my stuff outside and in the shed,” he says. “That first year we got four and a half feet. It flooded so bad, there was a car parked down the road from me that was completely under water.”
The Riggins say the flooding never actually affects their house, but Jay said if he had known how high the flooding in the area could be – two to four feet – he probably wouldn't have considered living where he does.
Now to avoid losing their valuables during spring and fall time flood watches, the Riggins must tow all of their outdoor tools and equipment up the road and park it in a friend’s lot. Anything that’s safe to stay on their property is weighed down.
“We know when the flood is coming,” Robin Riggins says. “We see when the river is coming up and if there’s rain in the forecast. We’re getting pretty good at predicting it.”
Living in Goulais with her husband for eight years now, Robin says the water fortunately doesn’t flood over the riverbank in their particular location.
Instead, the water comes in on either side of their road, which makes it impossible for them to enter and leave their property by way of vehicle.
“We flood from the road in, and our riverbank actually stays dry ground,” she says. “It never affects our house which is part of the reason we stay.”
Last week, Jay canoed his wife to her car for three days so she could get to work in the mornings. The Riggins’ commute to reach their vehicle is about one kilometre in total – half of it spent canoeing, and the other half on foot.
“Our road is two kilometres long, and we drive about halfway into our road and park our vehicles on high ground,” Robin says. “Then, we walk down the hill and there’s a little bit of a stretch of road and then a corner. That corner is where the river converges, and the water comes in from that corner as well as at the opposite end of the road.”
“There’s been times where we canoe for more than a week,” Jay Riggins adds. “You get used to it after being here for 23 years.”
The Riggins keep themselves busy throughout the year as Labrador breeders, and they currently have two litters on the ground, which makes dealing with a flood all the more interesting according to the Goulais couple.
“It makes it hard to conduct business,” he says. “Because families were ready to go, we had to canoe them up to meet their new owners since they couldn’t come to us. We put them in a baby carrier and take them up the road.”
“When we let the moms out, we completely dry them off 100 per cent before we let them back in to their puppies,” Robin adds. “The river water carries diseases that could potentially wipe out the entire litter. So it’s another issue we deal with.”
Over the next few days, the Riggins say they’ll be focusing on cleanup efforts as they look to get their property back in order.
“When I look out at my yard now, there’s a whole bunch of garbage in it that’s floated down from other houses and camps,” he says. “One guy comes and brings his wheelbarrow and picks up the stuff that was in his yard that had floated down here, but nobody else does.”
As the water dissipates and the mud dries, the couple is happy to have their vehicles back, and they’ll be grabbing their trailer and tools once it dries a bit more.
While the thought of moving to a house that’s safe from flooding is nice, Jay notes it’s just not financially feasible for them currently.
But they’re still happy to be spending their years in Goulais.
“We prefer living in the bush than the city,” Robin says. “It’s the lifestyle. For the week-long flood, we’ll suck it up for the sake of living in Goulais River. It’s muscle memory at this point.”
“I still prefer to live out here with fewer people to tell me what I have to do,” Jay laughed.