South Slave

Wary Fort Providence leaders plan for a difficult river breakup

Fort Providence is bracing for the potential of more flooding outside the hamlet’s main core due to unusually high water levels this year.

The warning from Deh Gáh Got’îê Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge comes as communities across the territory prepare for breakup season and brief residents on the emergency plans in place.

In March, Hay River released information for residents in case a second evacuation in two years is required.


Although Fort Providence has high riverbanks and much of the hamlet is considered protected, Chief Bonnetrouge estimates there are more than 15 cabins in the surrounding area that could flood or be swept away if the water is too high.

“Since last fall, just quietly, a number of us have started talking about how it was abnormal, the way the big river froze up,” Bonnetrouge said.

Ice on the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence
Ice on the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

“This fall and this winter were unusual with heavy packed ice. The water may come but it may not push it, so the ice is not going to move if the water comes down. If the water comes down, it has to go somewhere.”

Bonnetrouge said community leaders are working with local environmental officers to devise solutions for the cabins, like tying them down so they cannot drift away.


Bonnetrouge says he has noticed a difference in how the river has broken in recent years.

“Things have really changed now with climate change. Unpredictable weather and water patterns,” he said.

“Traditionally, this ice went about May 25 for years and years and years, as far as I can remember.

“Recently it’s more like May 15 or even May 1, so that’s really changing.”

Fort Simpson prepares

The Village of Fort Simpson has also been preparing for this year’s high water levels, posting to Facebook a list of reminders for residents.

The village has a flood committee of people from different support agencies that will meet when required to monitor the ice and flood conditions.

The village recommends keeping vehicles fully fuelled and having extra supplies like food, water, blankets, sleeping bags and clothing. If an evacuation is required and you have time, shut off all fuel and propane tanks and the main breaker before you leave.

This year there is a designated area at the fire training ground for residents on the island to move their vehicles, trailers, and other valuable property. If an evacuation of the island becomes necessary, residents may also relocate there.

Flood watch will commence once the water reaches 12.5 metres on the Mackenzie River gauge, the village said. At 13 metres, broadcasts of conditions will begin on community radio station 90.7 FM, on Facebook and on the village’s website.

Evacuation alert begins at 13.5 metres, a state of emergency is triggered at 14 metres, and the Elders’ care home, health centre and Stanley Isaiah clusters will be evacuated at 14.5 metres.

At 15 metres, a full evacuation of the island is planned. People without vehicles can head to the recreation centre for transport.