CONSTANCE BAY – Much like 2017, when the water started to rise this spring so did the volunteers of the West Carleton Royal Canadian Legion.
For close to six weeks, Branch 616, have been providing three hot meals a day for anyone, volunteer or flood-affected, that walks through its front doors. And for those who weren’t able to make it to the Legion – volunteers found a way to bring the food to them. And they did it all for free.
On Friday, May 24, the Legion served its last community dinner to roughly 40 people that evening. It’s an opportunity for those desperately battling to save their homes to grab a quick, warm meal, enjoy a brief respite from the realities of the extreme flooding and to recharge some dangerously low batteries.
This year’s flooding has been bigger and longer in every conceivable way compared to the 2017 flood – at the time, considered the worst flooding in West Carleton history. This spring, West Carleton residents started working on their flood defences as early as April 20 and have been working on next to no sleep ever since.
Long-time Terry Fox Run organizers Bob Dupuis and Linda Cassidy were at the Legion Friday night, eating dinner, socializing with neighbours and talking about, what else, the flood.
The two are ‘soul mates’, cancer survivors, flood warriors and exhausted.
“Bob and Linda stayed, and they fought, and they got wet,” said their dinner companions, who “escaped to Barrhaven” on May 1 but are back now.
It wasn’t the Ottawa River that got them, but the rising ground water. And that has caused a whole bunch of other problems. Because many homes in Constance Bay are built on sand, the incredible amount of ground water has ruined the stability of peoples’ foundations and that has caused a lot of damage to residents’ homes.
“There’s a big crack in our basement cement floor that runs from one side of the house to the other,” Dupuis told West Carleton Online. “The water just came up through the basement just because of the pressure. There is a lot of damage.”
Dupuis and Cassidy are still living in their home. They have no water but there’s a room above the garage that is safe for sleeping. They didn’t have these problems in 2017. And the news got worse for the two seniors. When an engineer looked at their home, he said let the water in. They now have just over two feet of water in their basement.
“The engineer told us to do that,” Dupuis said. “He said if we didn’t do that, we would lose the whole wall. At least the cracks didn’t get bigger. I don’t know how we’re going to fix it. I guess we’re going to fill the basement in and make it a crawl space. We can’t go through this every two years. Or every five years. Or ever again. It’s shortening my life span. We’re not going to go through this again.”
Branch 616 President George Dolan has been putting in long days at the Legion this spring. He opens the building in the morning where he and Vice President Bogdan Procyk get the first hot meal, breakfast, going.
He often is the last to leave the building at night. It’s a good thing he lives nearby. When asked how many meals the Legion has provided, all he can do is chuckle.
“It started out that the command post was at the community centre,” Dolan, who said he could spare about five minutes, told West Carleton Online. “So, we decided to ask the command centre if we could help out.”
So Legion volunteers started supplying soup and sandwiches and delivering them.
“It just snowballed from there,” Dolan said. “Some members thought we should be doing hot meals too. By the next week we were cooking three meals a day.”
While Branch 616 has been doing most of the cooking, a few neighbouring Legions including Kanata, Bells Corner and Bath (a faraway neighbour) as well as other organizations have volunteered their time to cook for a day.
Since that time, Dolan estimates the Legion cooked 150 meals a day. He ballparks the number of meals prepared to more than 3,000 in total. Dolan says the food donations have been incredible.
“For some reason people though this was the food centre and stuff just came pouring in,” Dolan said. “So many people were dropping off food – too many to remember them all. You couldn’t open a fridge without something falling out. We had to do something with all that food, so we started cooking it.”
Not only food, but volunteers came flooding in at various times.
“We had some lady from Limoges (an hour south of Ottawa) come in,” Dolan said. “She cooked a soup, went out and did some sandbagging and then came it and swept up. I didn’t even get her name.”
The Legion was a hub for people to warm up and eat before getting back to flood fighting.
“Everybody was coming here for a meal,” Dolan said. “It’s slowing down this week.”
While meals were available at the community centre, people seemed to prefer the Legion.
“It’s not as good there, someone told me,” Dolan said with the smile of a chef. “The company’s a lot better too. We’re getting a lot of thanks. A lot of people come to relax and take their mind off things.”
Dolan said he is surprised to see the morale and mood as positive as it is.
“I think people are just accepting the facts,” he said.