CALL 320 - Documentary Record of the 1950 Manitoba Flood

Date / Period
Object Type
Books, Guides and Manuals
Canadian Red Cross
Disaster Management

Like all Canadian rivers, Manitoba’s Red River rises significantly each spring, as its waters are swollen by melting snow. Every so often, rising waters turn into disastrous flooding, as in the memorable spring of 1950. This book, Call 320 (Manitoba Division Red Cross, 1950), documents the Canadian Red Cross’ role in the epic evacuation and relief effort that unfolded that spring.

The Red River watershed flooded between April and June of 1950, reaching depths of 15 feet in low-lying rural areas, and peaking at a record 30.2 feet in the city of Winnipeg. The city declared a state of emergency and enlisted the Canadian army and the Red Cross to assist residents and help coordinate the then-largest evacuation operation in Canadian history. It would hold this record until the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. 

The government of Manitoba records that 100,000 residents were evacuated (one-third of the population of Winnipeg), 10,000 homes were destroyed, and 5,000 other buildings were damaged. The greatest evacuation in Canadian history required in turn the Red Cross’ greatest domestic relief effort to that point. Manitoba Division Red Cross personnel were bolstered by volunteers and staff from elsewhere in Canada and an experienced American Red Cross disaster expert.  

The Red Cross set up its emergency headquarters in the Winnipeg Auditorium, which also doubled as emergency shelter for 3,000 citizens. As evacuees left their homes, the Red Cross provided emergency aid to more than 20,000 people, and directly evacuated 5,500. When families were allowed to return to their homes, the society provided further aid to another 30,000 people. 

Rapidly changing flood conditions required improvisation and creativity throughout the flood-fighting effort. For instance, while it was possible early in the flooding for Red Cross volunteers to bring lunch in the normal way to soldiers building sandbag dykes, later on Canadian Red Cross Corps members had to canoe themselves and their supplies of hot tea to RCMP officers working in flooded areas. Throughout the flood months, the Red Cross worked closely with provincial and military officials. 

The 1950 Red River floods taught the Red Cross valuable lessons about disaster response, and helped shape the society’s plans for future disaster response efforts. Government officials were similarly influenced by the flood, and from 1962 to 1968 built the Red River Floodway to help protect Winnipeg from future floodwaters.

CALL 320 - Documentary Record of the 1950 Manitoba Flood

CALL 320 - Documentary Record of the 1950 Manitoba Flood
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