Peguis man flees flooded Manitoba First Nation with little more than urn containing wife’s ashes

With floodwaters rising on Peguis First Nation, Harold Sutherland had to make some quick decisions before leaving his home.

He made it out with little other than the clothes on his back and an urn containing the ashes of his recently deceased wife of 57 years, Evelyn Ruth Sutherland.

“I couldn’t leave her behind,” he said on Wednesday, gesturing to the urn next to his hotel bed in Winnipeg.

Sutherland and his grandchildren are among the 1,800 evacuees forced from the Interlake community during floods following three significant spring storms that left pockets of southern and central Manitoba saturated or submerged.

“Terrible to see everything going down the drain,” he said. “So much water. First time I’ve seen that much in all my life.”

Aerial shots show the far-reaching floodwaters covering Peguis First Nation on May 9, 2022. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He says Evelyn would’ve been frightened to see the conditions of her flood-stricken community.

“I know for sure she’d be scared and she would’ve [wondered] what we’re going to do now … how we’re going to go about fixing our house.”

The pair spent most of their marriage together in Peguis First Nation before Evelyn passed away April 14. She asked her husband for a hug and kiss shortly before she died.

“It’s just hard,” Sutherland said. “But life goes on … can’t give up. Won’t let the flood let me down. I’ll keep fighting.”

Within a couple weeks of Evelyn’s death, Peguis and more than two dozen other flooded communities in the centre and south of the province declared local states of emergencies.

In a hotel room with his daughter and two grandchildren Wednesday, Sutherland said that when medical staff were taking Evelyn’s body away, three eagles followed in the sky.

“She’s out there,” he said.

On his pinky finger, Sutherland sports a wavy gold ring with two tiny blue and pink gems. It belonged to Evelyn, but will one day end up on the finger of one of her two granddaughters, Choiles and Chalyce Sutherland.

As they all evacuated separately, Chalyce was worried her grandfather might leave her grandmother’s urn behind.

“I kept asking my mom if he was going to get my gran, and thank goodness he did because I thought I was never going to see gran ever again,” said Chalyce.

A house surrounded by sandbags and a vehicle partially submerged in floodwater on the Peguis First Nation on May 6. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Chalyce misses home and her dogs, which are staying with her auntie. She also doesn’t like living in a hotel and getting moved around.

“It’s hard to have a home that’s flooded and have a gran that’s … passed away, but at least she’s not suffering no more. That’s one of the good things.”

Sutherland worked in construction most of his life and had a hand in building many homes in Peguis. He’s looking forward to getting back home to help rebuild.

The Fisher River spilled its banks at Peguis, flooding a broad area of Manitoba’s low-lying northern Interlake region. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

More from CBC Manitoba: