Beaverbrook Art Gallery collection high and dry, safe from floodwaters

Staff at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery were busy over the holiday weekend keeping its art collection high and dry, safe from rising floodwaters.

They moved all of the artworks from the lower level of the provincial gallery upstairs, said John Leroux, the manager of collections and exhibitions at the Fredericton gallery.

"We took precautions just knowing that the level was going to come up to close to last year's level," he said.

The gallery overlooks the banks of the St. John River, which has caused widespread flooding in recent days.

Water levels in the Fredericton area are hovering at around 8.35 metres, officially surpassing last year's historic record of 8.258 metres, officials confirmed on Tuesday afternoon.

Flood stage in Fredericton is 6.5 metres.

As of Tuesday morning, no water had entered the gallery, and it remains open to the public, said Leroux.

He's hoping the water won't stay as high for as long as last year, which was about two weeks.

"Hopefully, in a couple of days we'll be able to start putting it back if the levels recede."

'A lot of sweat'

Moving the valuable art took Leroux and his crew of three "a lot of sweat," but it went "surprisingly quickly and effectively," he said.

They did a lot of planning in terms of where the items would go.

In addition, several items they had moved upstairs last year were left there, so they didn't have to move them again.

Among the items they did have to move was an exhibition from the provincial art bank. 

"So it's effectively someone else's art, so of course they're concerned to make sure that it's all safe, but we let them know, of course, we take as much care of other people's art as we do our own."

Flood-proofing

Leroux said some of the renovations the gallery underwent as part of its 2017 expansion have helped make it flood-ready.

It has concrete walls, which effectively act as a moat, and new aluminum gates that now cover the openings where the stairs are.

They help keep the flowing water out, he said, but sump pumps are also running constantly to counteract the hydrostatic pressure, effectively water that comes from underneath the building.

Sarah Morin/CBC

"There's mechanics that are going 24/7 to make sure that water doesn't infiltrate the building. As of now, it's all working really well."

That has enabled the café to stay open this year, unlike last year, noted Leroux, adding he believes it was one of the few places open in that area of the city's downtown on Monday.

Becoming a routine

Last year's flooding was more stressful, he said.

"We were flipping out because the gallery was really only, like, a couple of months old and we had to test all of our anti-flood works and hope that they worked, and luckily they did."

After making it safely through last year, "We thought, 'Oh, we don't have to do this for at least another decade.' Nope."

Leroux hopes there won't be a repeat next year.

"I don't know, maybe I'm just going to have to plan the exhibitions, that there's only, you know, one or two light things on the lower floor," he said jokingly.