It would have been easy for everyone at Russell Farm Market & Garden Centre to simply throw in the towel after the second devastating flood in less than two years at the business on the Trans Canada Highway near Westholme.
But they’re a resilient bunch there and the process of cleaning up the damage following the latest storm began in earnest Tuesday, a day after the flood waters receded enough to literally start picking up the pieces again. The process continued throughout the week with the aid of numerous dedicated volunteers willing to do almost anything to provide a helping hand.
“There’s no words to express the thank yous,” said operations manager Tammy Calverley. “We’ve had lots of offers of help.”
Several individuals, club members and businesses stepped forward immediately to lend assistance in the bid to speed up the onerous task of getting the business operational again.
“So much support, amazing,” said co-owner France Bournazel.
It’s been such a hectic and crucial time for the survival of the business. Being idled any longer than necessary just isn’t an option.
“Our goal is to be operational in some capacity as soon as possible,” noted Calverley.
“We’re relying on the hearts of the community and the trades people to do what they can for us. This is our slow time of the year. We don’t have cash flow. We operate on cash flow this time of the year.”
“I need the cash flow,” reinforced Bournazel. “I don’t have no insurance. We need to open. At least we’ll do a flood special. We need the money.”
Trying to get insurance was an impossible task, particularly after the last flood on Jan. 31, 2020 and the threat that it could easily happen again since little has been done on the Chemainus River to alleviate the recurring problems since then. And it was not from a lack of trying to get insurance, as attempts were even made to secure a policy with a company as far away as the United Kingdom.
“We struggled to get basic insurance and flood was not an option for us,” conceded Calverley.
Staff members have been fighting back tears at the prospect of getting through this unbelievable outcome again. But there’s a job to do and everyone is staying strong in the wake of incredible adversity.
“It’s so bad out there,” said Bournazel. “The one thing I feel I’m blessed. I have to look at the positives in life, I’m healthy.”
The biggest need, she added, is if there’s anyone in the community who has refrigeration units they can donate. The equipment that’s required to keep food cool and fresh is imperative and doesn’t come cheap to replace the ones no longer functional from water damage.
A few saving graces in this latest flood included the recovery of the Russell Stewart memorial bench. It means a lot to Bournezal as a testament to her business partner, who died in 2017.
The bench was swept right across the street from Russell Farm and Doug Groenendijk, whose family operates a farm on Mount Sicker Road, got on a tractor to salvage it.
“That’s when I burst into tears,” confided Bournazel. “That’s what Russell told me. You’ve got to keep going. So I keep going.”
The amount of silt this time was a lot less than the last flood, about two inches compared to nearly 10, making the muddy part of the clean-up more manageable.
“The river was already cleared out from the last flood,” pointed out Calverley.
There was also great concern about the goats connected to the farm, but they turned out to be OK.
“I called them from the highway,” said Bournezal. “They stuck their head out and I knew they were above water.”
Frustration over the continual threat of floods has grown for Russell Farm and the nearby Halalt First Nation, also heavily impacted again. The problem for this portion of the Chemainus River flooding lies with logjams while gravel bars on other parts of the river are the issue.
“It’s pretty much the same thing that happened before,” said Bournazel. “What do we have to do to fix the problem? The logs blocked the bridge again. You know these logs have been cut. They’re not fallen trees. The river got detoured.”
She added the river rose again from two inches to three feet in a matter of 50 seconds.
“You can see from the bridge how high the logs were. For them to fix it is for them to build a very nice dike. Who am I to deserve that? And for the (Halalt) First Nation, why are they under water again? It’s so sickening.
“They need to remove these logs. Nobody’s going to do nothing so I don’t know what to do.”