There are anchor points in May 2018 that people in the Boundary can call back to: when they first saw sandbags hit the streets, when their yards got soggy with groundwater and for some it may be when the river started lapping at their front door.
While people were shovelling and moving things to higher ground, Grand Forks resident Jennifer Houghton grabbed a camera too, as her own home was being flooded by more drastic levels than it had the year before.
“When the flood hit and people weren’t prepared, I saw the shock and devastation that I had already been through,” she said. “I thought, ‘You know what? Our stories need to be told,’ because I saw what was happening here. It’s a small town and the impact was immense. I thought this was a story that other people can learn from, and other communities can learn from. I think this story is definitely worth telling.”
For the last two years – including during the peak of the emergency in 2018 – Houghton has been talking to neighbours and community members to make a documentary of the May 2018 flood. Last month, she began releasing one half-hour episode per week on the Grand Forks Flood Documentary YouTube channel.
Naturally, Houghton recognizes that the series she has put together could be a bit too much for some.
“There are some people in Grand Forks who are not going to want to rewatch it and relive it and that’s absolutely understandable,” Houghton said, “but there are also people who will. There are also people in our community who will get something out of rewatching it one of the things that came out of this is how so many local people are our heroes.”
Early episodes take viewers into the lives of her neighbours in May 2018, as the reckon with the damage the water did to their homes. In those moments, she – and in turn the viewer – gets to know members of a community who otherwise may have had little in common.
“I came to meet people that I’d never met before,” Houghton said. “And I came to see that even people that I might have differing political views from – they’re very good people and they’ll reach out to help other human beings. I came to see the humanity and the caring and the compassion in my neighbours and friends and strangers.”
It’s one of the two major lessons the Grand Forks resident says she learned: that coming together for support is essential for survival in a small community and that governments need to shift to look at prevention instead of reaction when it comes to disasters and crisis. Though not released yet, Houghton said that later episodes in the series will explore some of the potential precipitating factors for the extreme waters in 2018.
Understanding people’s stories can help understand where they sit now, and Houghton hopes that viewers of her documentary will gain an understanding of why she and others are passionate about ensuring that such an event doesn’t befall Grand Forks or another community again.
“I think it would be great if people [realized] that the flood had an enormous impact on our community – not just the people who were flooded – but it had an economic impact. It had a social impact. It had a cultural impact.”