“I Couldn’t See Water Street for Water”

Gordon's column in The Toronto Star from July 16, 2004, the day after the Great Peterborough Flood

Kruz FM's newsroom a week after the 2004 Peterborough flood (photo: Brian Ellis)
Kruz FM's newsroom a week after the 2004 Peterborough flood (photo: Brian Ellis)

Editor’s note: Peterborough broadcaster and author Gordon Gibb recently published Gibberish: Tall Tales and Domestic Disasters From Beyond the Microphone, a collection of previously published newspaper columns.

“I Couldn’t See Water Street for Water” is a column he wrote for The Toronto Star. It was published the day after the Great Peterborough Flood of July 15, 2004.

I Couldn’t See Water Street for Water

Local broadcaster relives ‘surreal’ day, waded through flooded streets to office

Driving into the city center at daybreak yesterday for my 6am radio shift proved surreal.

My particular subdivision looked fine, but as I neared downtown — one of the low-lying areas of a city built around seven hills — it became apparent all was not well. There were small lakes where the pavement was supposed to be, confusing traffic and causing a few people to abandon their cars. Some didn’t have that luxury of independence, and had to be rescued.

My own destination turned out to be one of the worst-hit areas. King Street crosses over Jackson Creek, which had swelled into the thoroughfare, adding to the chaos. My four-wheel-drive Jeep, in spite of a healthy ground clearance, proved no match for the water, leaving me to wade against a raging river that, until an hour before, had been a city street.

The water was well above my knees, and the current so muscular I was literally expecting to be carried out to the Otonabee River.

Grabbing light standards along the sidewalk for support, I made my way to the entrance of our ground-floor offices, and began to digest the seriousness of the situation.

I have seen floods before, the result of a sudden and dramatic rainfall. But this was something else again. This was a disaster movie, unfolding before my very eyes. Only I was in it.

Unable to pull open the front door of our building, I was forced to make my way, against the intensifying current, to the rear of the building where the water proved less of a challenge.

Inside we were greeted with six inches of water which had destroyed at least one computer and threatened several pieces of equipment. An electrical appliance, plugged in and operational, was submerged on the floor; it’s a wonder the entire morning crews weren’t electrocuted.

With our land lines knocked out, we were forced to rely on cell phones to communicate with the public and piece together an environmental disaster which had mobilized the city’s Emergency Response Team in the wee hours. And then, bit by bit, via email and any other method of communication we could muster, in came the stories: a small car carried down the street by the raging current; the toddler who leapt into his mother’s arms from the top bunk in a flooded basement bedroom; the man who gave up on his car and launched his boat. Members of the Peterborough Arts Umbrella arrived to find their basement offices completely submerged, a lake where the stairwell used to be.

I couldn’t even see Water Street for water.

And now, the cleanup begins. In a sad case of poor timing, many residents had just finished renovating their basements after the rains of June 2002, which caused heavy damage and rendered many a rec room and its contents useless. The good news is that Peterborough is a community renowned for pulling together in times of crisis. We will mop up, and dry out with unified vigor.

And we find the humour in seeing someone’s automatic sprinkler system in full flight, in the midst of a downpour that has flooded city streets to a degree no one could ever remember.

Ironically, it was just a few days ago that Peterborough proudly celebrated the 100th anniversary of our famed Peterborough Lift Lock. In 1904, the opening was marred by a torrential downpour. History almost repeated itself.


Epilogue: I threw this piece together at about 5 in the afternoon, having just arrived home after 12 hours of the chaos we all experienced that day, July 15th, 2004. A day we endured, and overcame together as a community. The Toronto Star was very interested in the “more than 150 millimeters of rain [that] fell, causing storm sewers to back up and Jackson Creek to overflow.”

Gordon Gibb (photo: Jessica Melnik)
Gordon Gibb (photo: Jessica Melnik)
Gordon Gibb is a well-known member of the Peterborough media community, currently heard afternoons on Kruz 100.5 FM and as the public address announcer for the Peterborough Petes and Peterborough Lakers.

He’s also a busy author. Since 2007, Gordon has been writing daily for LawyersandSettlements.com, a web portal serving the legal profession in Los Angeles, California. In 2006, he penned Lester B. Pearson: The Geek Who Made Canada Proud, a curriculum-based work which was published by Jackfruit Press.

He is currently updating the book for a new publisher, and is editing a novel, The Fifth Season, which he hopes to release next year.

Gordon also operates GordonGibb.com, a freelance voiceover business in which he narrates videos, commercials, and other audio projects heard across Canada, the U.S and as far away as Dubai.

His most recent book is Gibberish: Tall Tales and Domestic Disasters From Beyond the Microphone, a collection of previously published newspaper columns that ran in The Peterborough Examiner from 2001 through 2009. Many also appeared nationally in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest, and Cottage Life. Gibberish is available in paperback (email Gordo@GordonGibb.com for details) and as an ebook at Amazon.ca.