"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Elizabeth Bishop House Is Fine

"There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams / hurry too rapidly down to the sea…"
EB, "Questions of Travel"

In about two hours on Monday morning, 22 September 2014 (the first day of autumn), the meteorologists tell us that in parts of Nova Scotia 100mm of rain fell. One of those parts was the Great Village area. This volume of rain in such a short period of time caused the Great Village River to burst its banks, seriously flooding the centre of the village. A torrent of rain-swollen river water inundated the area from Layton’s Store to the bridge, which means that the EB House was in the centre of it all.

I did not witness the flood, but many people in the village did and I was told that around 6:30-7:00 a.m. people noticed some water starting to cross the road, then all of a sudden, a wall of water crashed through. Someone told me that someone remarked, “It was the biggest tidal bore,” they’d seen in some time. It was so bad that the bridge was closed for an hour or so. The rushing water lifted off a large propane tank on the Wilson’s Gas Stop property. After hitting the bridge, causing great concern, it floated down the river and out onto the marsh. A large trailer behind the fire hall was dislodged and moved to the side of the hall. Many photographs and videos were taken of this awesome, shocking sight. The water crested and began to subside as quickly as it had come. As the water drained away, the damage became more visible.

The EB House was in the direct path of this wall of turbulent water and was surrounded. It looked dire. As the water left, what revealed was a great deal of erosion around the foundation of the house. The front step had been taken off and the driveway, from the road to the verandah steps, had been gouged out, along with the shoulder of the road from the EB House to the bridge. Another peculiar thing was that a great quantity (a ton, literally) of earth had been deposited in the backyard of the EB House, a testament to how quickly the water ebbed: that is, it simply dropped large rocks, gravel and mud, as though from a dump truck.

At this point, I want to thank some people for their incredible kindness in checking on the house as soon as it was possible: Meredith Layton, Patti and Harold Sharpe, Deverne and Valerie Rushton. Patti contacted me immediately and told me of the event. She sent me photos, some of which you see in this post. They kept check on the house all day. I went to Great Village on Tuesday morning and all these people, and more (especially Cory Spencer), continued to be truly supportive and helpful. This is the nature of a small community, people care about each other. I know that similar acts of kindness went on for everyone else whose properties were in the path of this vast quantity of water. Bless all the people of Great Village.

I want to say clearly, in spite of the rather awful looking driveway and yard, the Elizabeth Bishop House itself is fine. I attribute this fact to Norman Bowers, who bought the house from Bishop’s maternal family in 1932 (after Bishop’s grandparents had died). One of the things not commonly known about the EB House is that the basement is an amazing place. It has three- and four-foot-thick concrete walls and floor – it looks like Fort Knox. The northeast corner of the floor is open earth because, since it was put on that site, the basement has taken in water from the spring runoff. The water goes in and the water goes out. Additionally, Norman Bowers knew the historic high water mark (the house was surrounded by water during the Great Saxby Gale of 1866, and perhaps once or twice since then – one time in the early 1930s, for example). Nothing has ever been stored there. The furnace is elevated nearly to the ceiling. The well pump and hot water heater are also elevated. I measured the high water mark from this flood: 35 inches. Extreme as that is, the basement took it without much trouble at all. The basement walls go down beyond the external erosion, which means, it was not compromised. The front porch foundation is not part of the main foundation and it will require some work (and a new step), but all in all, the house is secure.

The lovely yard, which is the most visible element, is a mess (besides the gravel, lots of debris floated into it). The clean up of it will begin in earnest as soon as the N.S. Department of Transportation in-fills the shoulder of the road at the beginning of the driveway, a task which needs to be done quickly, because as those who have stayed there know, the corner on which the EB House sits is a busy one.

I am showing you these photos of the height of the event so you can see something of the spectacle. Patti took more photos around the house on Tuesday, after all the water had gone, and I will post some of them as soon as I get them. When the yard is put back to rights, I will post more photos. We are withdrawing the house from market temporarily, but I am writing this post partly to state publicly that the Bishop House is fine. And to thank the community for its caring and concern. There was damage done to other properties and I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to those people and say that I hope the damage is minimal, as it was at the EB House. And I want to thank Norman Bowers, wherever he is in the spheres, for his incredible foresight and action to ensure the EB House is on solid ground (or concrete, as the case may be).

1 comment:

  1. Amazing! Thank you for sharing Sandra Barry! Long live the Elizabeth Bishop childhood home!