‘Go with the punches’: Manitoba wilderness lodge hit by flood after 2 years of COVID closures

After two years of being shut down due to COVID-19, a Manitoba fishing and hunting lodge finally reopened this spring to face the most devastating flooding one of its owners has seen in nearly four decades.

“There’s probably about four feet of water in the boathouse right now,” said Donna Hastings, who, along with her husband, owns Windsock Lodge on the shore of Long Lake in Nopiming Provincial Park.

The lodge’s dock, and a deck attached to that, have been “ripped apart,” she said.

“Boats are submerged in water [and] all their contents in our boat house are underwater. So there’s a lot of damage.”

The remote site is located at the end of a Y in the eastern Manitoba park, where Highways 304 and 314 split off. The latter heads south through the provincial park while 304 goes north.

Highway 314 was recently closed near the lodge after a culvert gave way and the road collapsed. Provincial officials are now looking at the possibility of shutting down 304, Hastings said.

“So there won’t be any way in or out,” she said, noting there are guests at the lodge, from Toronto and Jamaica, who are scheduled to leave on Friday.

This is how the boathouse and dock are supposed to look, and did before the level of Long Lake suddenly went up last week. (Submitted by Donna Hastings)

The guests are there for the spring hunt, which the lodge owners have still been able to lead them on. But getting them home is the challenge now.

“We would usually drive them back into Winnipeg so they can catch their flights. Now I’m just phoning around to see if there’s any air services that we can get them out,” Hastings said.

The next guests are set to arrive on Sunday.

“We haven’t had guests for like two years because of COVID and this will be the third hit. So we’re going to try everything we can to get them into camp.”

Hastings said the water level rose suddenly late last week, going up 20 centimetres “boom, overnight.”

Southern Manitoba was hit with three consecutive Colorado low weather systems, which brought snow and rain through three weekends in April and May. Then temperatures warmed quickly, and the snow still in the bush around Long Lake began to melt.

“The runoff just made it that much worse, and then we got a little bit more rain,” Hastings said.

Typically, the runoff drains quickly once the melt has finished, going out to the falls on the west side of the lake, she said. But this year, there’s so much water “it’s just sitting and nowhere to go.”

The bloated bodies of water are spreading out across roads and any lowlands. Even some of the islands in Long Lake were fully underwater, she said.

Highway 314 was recently closed off near the lodge after a culvert gave way and the road collapsed. (Submitted by Donna Hastings)

In her 37 years of owning the lodge, Hastings has never seen flooding like this.

“We were so excited. Finally, [after] two years of not having any income we thought, OK this it, we’re home free. And then this happened and all I could do was cry,” she said. 

“But crying is not going to do us any good. So, you know, we just have to put one foot in front of the other and do the best we can.”

She said she is not concerned at all about the safety of anyone at the lodge, which is high enough from the water. And if they do end up isolated, “we’ve got lots of food and everything here to keep us going,” she said.

“It’s just our guests that we’re concerned about so they can get in and out. That’s the only thing.”

And the forecast is calling for more rain, possibly five more centimetres, over the next few days.

“So that’s not going to help. That’s not going to help at all,” Hastings said.

“But you just have to have a positive mind and outlook on things. We’ll survive it and just go with the punches. There’s a lot more people worse off than we are.”