The floods in Saguenay

The damages in the La Baie district were so important that these scenes of devastation were seen as far as South America. A Peruvian newspaper even published an article on the floods of July 1996.

In the July 1996 floods, La Baie was the hardest hit of all the Saguenay's cities. Over all, 50 million dollars were needed to restore the whole of the public infrastructures (roads, bridges, aqueduct and sewage network). Moreover, 30 million dollars were pumped into the stabilisation of the bay's banks and the restructuring of the riverbeds of the two waterways crossing through city, the à-Mars and Ha! Ha! Rivers.

The Ha! Ha! River flood destroyed a large part of the Grande-Baie sector. A huge mud wave surged downsream towards the mouth of the Ha! Ha! Bay, destroying everything in its way.

The pumping stations were completely wiped out, which brought on the interruption of fresh water supplies in many sectors of the district. On top of this, over 20 businesses were destroyed, not counting 25 others, which were considerably damaged. Many large industries such as the Abitibi-Consolidated paper mill, the Laiterie La Baie dairy plant, the Alcan aluminium plant and the Scieries Saguenay had to suspend their activities for many days, thus having negative consequences on the local and regional economy.

Once the big swell of water had passed, material goods could be seen washed up downstream on the Ha! Ha! Bay.
Right in the heart of La Baie's oldest neighbourhood, a hundred or so residential and commercial buildings were destroyed. Damages were estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

In July 1996, the Ha! Ha! River flooded over the flooding zone predicted in the improvement outline of the La Baie district. In certain areas along the riverside, the new riverbed was located at a distance of 20 meters on either side of the river.

Over 600 people lost all of their belongings in La Baie. Moreover, 2 000 citizens sustained major damages to their homes.

As a result of the flood, 4 bridges were either heavily damaged or destroyed and many kilometres of road were swallowed up. The destruction of these infrastructures thus translated into the complete isolation of the La Baie sector. Moreover, three components of its urban fabric, Grande-Baie, Port-Alfred and Bagotville, were completely cut off from each other. Furthermore, since the sheer force of the water had cut off all road links to the Lac-Saint-Jean, the Haut-Saguenay and Charlevoix, the district of La Baie was thus separated from the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region and the whole of the province of Quebec.

During the floods, the Route 170 and George-Abel bridges were destroyed. Under construction when the events occurred, the new Claude-Richard bridge couldn't be used. Once the flood was over, it was to be completed in a record four-day period.

Some of the La Baie district's infrastructures were heavily hit. Take for instance the Musée du Fjord , which had to close its doors for over ten months. Many buildings and parks of the Bec-Scie Outdoors activity centre to be totally redone, just like the salmon fish ladder and the à-Mars River Atlantic salmon observation points.

At one point, the Fjord Museum was surrounded by one metre of water. After fact, it was estimated that the damages were of well over half a million dollars, 626 000 $ to be exact. The Musée du Fjord has carried out a major immobilisation project, so much so that in the summer of 2003, the site will reopen its doors and will become an inescapable cultural centre in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area.

The "Au Jardin de mon Père" campsite, located on the Rivière-à-Mars riverside, suffered considerable damage. In all, 54 campsites were engulfed by the raging waters. Forty other sites were moderately damaged, later renovated, and thirty-two mobile homes were also partially damaged then relocated in one of La Baie's residential sectors. 650 000 $ were spent only for the refurbishing of the campsite.

The devastating July 1996 floods severely damaged the Alcan owned Roberval-Saguenay railway network. Two of its bridges disappeared. While the network was being rebuilt, a temporary truck network was set up in order to keep the Alcan activities running. This situation added 30 million dollars in additional costs to this multinational company. In all, 200 trucks carried over 2 000 truckloads of sand and rock a day.

Of the 30-kilometre stretch linking La Baie to Jonquière, 5 of them were a total loss. On top of this, 9 empty wagons disappeared in the waters.

In the La Baie district alone, 33 agricultural enterprises lost, either in their entirety or in part, their buildings (losses evaluated at 500 000 dollars) and had to sell their dairy cows. His enclosure having been carried away by the raging waters, a deer breeder saw 300 of his animals suddenly gain their freedom and run away.

In addition to losing their farms, some farmers lost many of their dairy cows.

Photo : Jacques Desbiens