COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Construction continues on new housing in a subdivision in Wawanesa on Friday morning.
WAWANESA — Mayor Bruce Gullett stands atop one of his village’s earthen dikes and reflects on the past year.
Garett Moore, an employee of the Souris Recreation Commission, cleans the water park in Wawanesa on Friday. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Bruce Gullett, mayor of Wawanesa, walks along one of the dikes constructed to battle the flood over a year ago on Friday morning. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
A boy bicycles past Wawanesa’s dam and large sandbags left over from the fight against flooding last year. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
He points along the grass-covered dike where a girl rides her bike in the summer sun, but a year ago the scene wasn’t so peaceful or pretty.
Last summer, the dike was a muddy mound that ran alongside the flooded Souris River.
"A year ago it was a hell of a mess," Gullett says.
During the flood, which extended from April through to September of last year, the Wawanesa School had to close due to water in its basement.
Half a dozen homes were left wet due to seepage, and the water was six feet deep in the Wawanesa Community Park, which is the site of the village’s campground.
But a year has made a big difference.
Now, the earthen dikes — built within three weeks to hold back a cresting river — are covered with grass.
Residents can stroll or ride their bikes along public portions, while sections that run on private property are neatly mowed.
And, within the village the dikes now protect, there have been some big changes aimed at serving a growing population.
A new $1.1-million swimming pool and water park opened last August.
And the campground, cleared of hundreds of cubic yards of silt deposited by the flood, has been cleared.
The campground now boasts more than 40 fully-serviced sites where once there were only about a dozen.
A new subdivision and daycare are in the works to serve a growing population.
Within the last five to seven years, the village has received an influx of 85 people to raise its population to 565.
Some of those new arrivals work in Brandon but preferred to live in Wawanesa.
Others are soldiers or civilians who are based or work at nearby CFB Shilo, and their families.
There are about 25 families in the area with links to the base which is only 20 minutes away.
A subdivision created 10 years ago is full, and the village had run out of spots to build new homes.
So a new seven-lot subdivision was created where construction is already underway.
There’s room for another 20 lots across the street, plus a commercial site for a future gas station.
A couple of long-term residents welcome the new faces and the improvements.
"It seemed to be money well spent," said long-term resident Ken Mooney.
Erwin Plett, 76, said he doesn’t recognize as many faces as he used to, but that isn’t a problem.
"As long as they keep supporting the town," Plett said.
Young families have pushed the average age in the village down, and Gullett said Wawanesa School is "busting at the seams."
The current daycare, housed in a room at the school, has spots for 16 children and there’s a waiting list of more than 20.
To meet demand, there’s now a plan to build the daycare a new 3,500-square-foot building next to the school, which will expand the capacity to 40 spots.
It’s expected to open sometime in 2014, and will cost an estimated $700,000 to $1 million. Fundraising has been underway for five to six years.
Gullett credits volunteers with making the projects possible. Volunteers, for example, helped build the water park and their labour helped to cut the cost in about half.
"A lot of the progress is the result of just some incredible volunteers," Gullett said.
It was that volunteer spirit, it seems, that helped the village battle through the flood in the first place.
When helping hands were needed to build sandbag dikes, a call for volunteers didn’t even have to be made.
All it took was for a few local contractors to begin work with some machinery.
"The rest of the people just heard all the noise and showed up," Gullett said. "Within two hours of starting, we had 60 or 70 people on site filling sand bags."
While Wawanesa was a mess a year ago, the mayor says the village now appears to be in good shape.
"I think our future is great," Gullett said.
Wawanesa is one of the finalists for Manitobaville 2012 competition which is being run by a number of radio stations in Brandon and Winnipeg.
Supporters can vote online at the 101.1 The Farm and KX96 websites.
If it wins, the village will receive $25,000 to be used to repair damage to the park and arena caused by the flood.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 1, 2012