Port Hope’s Ganaraska River Flood of 1980
This is not an Historical account of that event, 40 years ago. This is a personal account, which occurred while we lived on the second floor of an apartment building on the banks of the “Ganny”.
The river was known for flooding. Memorably damaging floods occurred in 1850, 1878, 1890, 1909, 1929, 1936, and 1937. There were other, less frightening floods between those dates. So, on that rainy March day in 1980, no one expected anything different than the previous Spring as they watched the water rise. Besides, the town had blasted a clearing through the jam packed ice at the mouth of the river just the day before so … what could go wrong ?
My bride and I were still being referred to as “The newlyweds in 211” by the older folks in our apartment building. The Barrett St. bridge over the river, was directly across from our balcony. I often enjoyed the view of the river from that balcony. The changing of the seasons, the mood of the river, the amusing antics of the Ganaraska Hotel patrons on a Friday night. This is what I was used to seeing from my balcony. I’ll apologize here for the quality of some of the pictures in this posting. They’re all digital scans of transparency slides and photos.
But Friday March 21st 1980, was different. We parked the car on the hill behind the building as we’d been monitoring reports on the radio all day at work. Having already promised a week-end visit with some out of town friends, we were packing our necessities. I began to regret the commitment as the tension mounted, along with the depth of the water. As we left, I saw water splashing through the railing of the Barrett St. Bridge in front of our building. I was 5’10” tall back then, and when standing on the riverbed, the bottom of the bridge was 3 feet above my reach.
I grabbed my camera and between the balcony and ground level, I started burning film (this was before digital cameras). This was what that Friday afternoon became.
It was probably just as well that we were away that week-end as, I wouldn’t have been able to get any more pictures until it was all over anyway. Our building was surrounded by water within hours after we left. Just as we were leaving, we saw a guy from the afore-mentioned Ganaraska Hotel being rescued by fire truck ladder, as the building was surrounded by raging waters already. All week-end long we heard media reports of the carnage the river was wreaking on our newly adopted Home town. Upon our return that Sunday night, there was a grubby water line, three feet deep in the building’s lobby. The elevator shafts were flooded, and the lobby stank of mold and dirty water.
As luck would have it, I’d already scheduled the following day off work for the purpose of … photography. I’d originally intended to compose artsy pics of the Ganny in the early Spring. My subject aim had changed considerably. The carnage was shocking. I witnessed the effect of water, and also massive ice sheets, carried by the water. Flotsam from upstream forests was rammed into, and through, bridge railings, meters above the normal waterline. I estimated by the flotsam stuck in the Barrett St. bridge (mentioned above) that the water had risen about four meters above normal. Entire buildings and their contents, had been delivered to Lake Ontario. The back door of at least one main street shop, burst open and the pressure of the water blew the front window out. The scent of damp soil, mold, and oil, wafted on the breeze.
Huge chunks of ice over a foot deep had battered bridges, and trees. An entire gas station had been lifted and moved across the street. A dozen vehicles from a local car dealership were pushed into the lake, and the Sears store was just plain gone. Most sadly, the heritage fire hall had been ripped open and eventually had to be taken down.
The following year, the resilient little town of Port Hope began a Spring tradition. “Float your Fanny down the Ganny”, is a celebration of Port Hope’s reaction to that devastating flood. A weekend long festival where custom made rafts are ridden down the river is still ongoing today. *** Cancelled this year because of Covid 19 *** Participants, and spectators come from as far away as New York to ride or watch from the shorelines.
Of course, the riverbed has been blasted down deeper to prevent flooding of this magnitude again, and it has worked ever since. Mind you, it still floods out right at the lake on occasion when the lake level is too high causing a backup. Hopefully, the Ganny is through punishing Port Hope for being on it’s banks. While walking the Ganny trail now, it’s hard to imagine that day 40 years ago, when my picturesque river became a raging, destructive torrent.