Paradise Gardens farmers face uncertain future due to fears of more spring flooding in southern N.W.T.

Andrew Cassidy, a co-owner of Greenwood Gardens, said the flooding damaged six of his greenhouses and only one was salvageable.  (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Andrew Cassidy, a co-owner of Greenwood Gardens, said the flooding damaged six of his greenhouses and only one was salvageable. (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Devastating flooding last spring has many in the farming community around Hay River, N.W.T., contemplating their future.

Andrew Cassidy and Helen Green, owners of Greenwood Gardens, are still deciding on their next move as they grapple with what's left of their home and business after floodwaters tore through the Paradise Gardens valley in May.

"The flooding was really damaging, like it washed away soil, it washed away our raised beds," Cassidy said.

"Six greenhouses, and all of them were were impacted to some degree — some completely were knocked down, others are totally inoperable right now as they are, so only one is kind of easily salvageable."

The flooding also severely damaged their house, and a modular unit next door that they rented out needs to be completely torn down due to water damage.

Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada
Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada

It damaged machinery and destroyed their flowers that were ready for sale. They estimate they lost nearly $40,000 in profits from the flowers and hanging planters alone.

After dealing with some immediate problems from the flooding, they began growing what they could — mostly berries — and sold about a quarter of what they normally would have.

Now, Cassidy and Green are questioning their next move as they fear the area could flood again next year or any year after. They said they're looking at other options, including plots of land in Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.

"If it's flooded once, there's a good possibility to flood again. The best way to mitigate that is to not be in the floodplain," said Cassidy.

"Now we need to figure out, you know, what is the direction we're going to go and where do you go if you want to keep farming exactly?"

The historic flooding has the N.W.T. government expecting the recovery cost for Hay River and Kátł'odeeche Fırst Nation to top $174 million.

Farmers who choose to stay int he valley will need to raise their houses and buildings above the level of the floodwaters — an option Green says isn't realistic.

"With greenhouses and barns and things like that, it would be really challenging to have those raised above flood level — they'd have to be probably 10 feet above the ground," she said.

"It's not feasible when you have animals, plants and soil — usually, we're working very [much] in the ground."

A historic flood

Given the short growing season and largely rocky or frozen terrain throughout the N.W.T., Paradise Gardens is an exception to the rather inhospitable land throughout the territory.

The fertile peninsula, about 25 kilometres south of the town of Hay River, is surrounded by the Hay River with banks that are seven and a half metres high.

The community was the first to flood this spring when water levels in the river rose above nine metres.

Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada
Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada

Greg Haist, a potato farmer who's lived in the area since the early 2000s, lost more than 2,700 kilograms of potatoes in the floods, but said his current plans involve staying.

"My first option ... was to look for some land that's close so that I could still farm here, but put my buildings and my equipment on higher ground," he said.

Haist said he applied to rent six additional hectares of land near Paradise Gardens, but on higher ground.

Local produce that is often sold to the community at the Fisherman's Wharf was reduced drastically this past summer, something Haist hopes won't be the case for the future.

Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada
Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada

"I don't know that people ever really depended on the locally grown food," he said.

"It's a little bit of a novelty, but to me the products that Helen [Green] is selling there has a far superior taste and all the rest of it. And just about anyone who ever gets potatoes from me is raving about how good they are."

Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said the flooding has been devastating for everyone but the situation for the farmers in Paradise Garden Valley is tragic on multiple levels.

"It's so sad to see that so many people didn't just lose their homes, they lost their livelihood," she said.