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Woman returns from vacation to property crumbling into Humber River

Jane Janes surveys the eroding riverbanks in her backyard in Deer lake for the first time Tuesday.
Jane Janes surveys the eroding riverbanks in her backyard in Deer lake for the first time Tuesday. - Roxanne Ryland photo

Jane Janes has been back home on Pine Tree Drive since Friday, but she never ventured out to get a good look at the riverbank crumbling around her property until Tuesday.

Janes, whose maiden name is Moss, was born on the Deer Lake street some 76 years ago and has lived there all her life.

Relatives of the Moss family own most of the homes on the street.

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Three days before a major rainstorm struck the area Jan. 13 and triggered significant erosion of the banks of the Humber River along Pine Tree Drive, Janes left to visit her daughter’s family in Alberta.

While in Alberta, she got daily updates and saw all the photos her daughter, Christine May, was regularly posting on social media. Her level of concern, allayed while being so far removed from it, has been elevated now that she can see what’s happening firsthand.

Until Tuesday, she had only peered out at the cracking soil around her property through a window.

So far, the river has claimed two apple trees and her pumpkin patch, along with some windows for her greenhouse. A small decorative lighthouse, frozen stuck in the ground, is precariously close to also being lost.

Stairs leading down to the river are also compromised by the shifting sands.

“I knew land could be reclaimed after a while, but I didn’t expect to see all of that,” she said after her first venture outside to assess the situation up close.

“It’s wicked. It’s worse than what I thought it was.”

Janes is all too familiar with January thaws. She remembers being awakened in the middle of the night by loud crashes and bangs as sheets of ice clashed with one another on their migration towards Deer Lake during previous mid-winter mild spells.

The chunky pack ice that jammed the mouth of the river last month, causing it to back up and rise so high that the banks began eroding in places, was unlike anything Janes has ever experienced in all her years living on the river.

“This was the worst year yet,” she said. “I’ve never seen it like this before.”

Nothing can be done about what’s been lost so far. Janes is now concerned about her gazebo and her shed, considering there is a crack between those structures and the edge of the bank.

She doesn’t think her house is in jeopardy, but that doesn’t mean things won’t worsen to the point where an evacuation may be required.

“If the road above us goes, the water and sewer will go too and we will have to evacuate,” she acknowledged.

Last week, the erosion was within six or seven feet of municipal infrastructure and Mayor Dean Ball has said further erosion was inevitable.

Monday, another section — this one measuring about six feet wide and nearly 20 feet long — broke off the bank further in the road from where Janes lives.

Ball said the overhang that dropped off wasn’t a huge chunk, but was further evidence the erosion activity is continuing and not about to stop any time soon.

The town is waiting to hear back from engineers working on a report about the situation and what can be done to mitigate the progressive faltering of the riverbanks. The options could include dropping armour stone or driving in steel pilings to form a wall to break the impact of the flowing water on the sandy banks.

Janes is hoping nothing else happens until the usual spring thaw and that action can be taken then to provide her neighbourhood with some level of protection from the powerful Humber River’s currents.

“It’s worrying all right, but I’m not letting it get to me,” she said. “We’ll wait until the spring and then I might start worrying more than what I’m doing now.”

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