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Grand Forks man building archive of neighbourhood lost to flood

North Ruckle was bought up by the city and will be leveled to make way for dike, floodplain
Les Johnson poses for a photo on the snowy outskirts of Grand Forks’ North Ruckle neighbourhood Friday, Feb. 4. Photo: Chris Hammett

A Grand Forks man is compiling a digital archive of North Ruckle in a bid to preserve the flood-ravaged neighbourhood’s history.

Les Johnson, an accomplished videographer and active member of the Boundary Historical Society, said he started the project in the spring of 2021, roughly six months before demolition started at neighbourhood homes in the way of the North Ruckle Dike.

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The dike is one of several works designed to protect the city from future floods on the scale of the 2018 freshet, which inundated North Ruckle and much of downtown Grand Forks.

“The whole idea came about because I didn’t know if anyone was recording data showing how Ruckle was when it was about to disappear,” Johnson told The Gazette on Thursday, Feb. 3.

Lest future generations of Forkites grow up knowing of North Ruckle only through museum exhibits, Johnson said he decided, “‘What the heck?’ Somebody’s got to do this.’”

So he set out to photograph the empty neighbourhood with a 360-degree camera mounted on the roof of his car. His intent at this point was to leave behind an online streetscape à-la Google Maps.

Johnson would broaden his aspirations months later, drawing on the interactive features of the wildly successful game Pokémon Go. Where the game allows players to find and capture digital Pokémon by traipsing through neighbourhoods with their smartphones, Johnson figured the same tech could be used to recapture North Ruckle.

Instead of battling each other for elusive cartoon monsters, Johnson said he hopes his project will enable users to visit North Ruckle after it becomes a flood plain and use their handhelds to access photos of old neighbourhood homes.

“Wherever they’re standing in North Ruckle, they could hold up their phones and look through a digital window into the past.”

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If the idea sounds ambitious, Johnson said he expects similar projects will crop up as other communities stage “managed retreats” from impending natural disasters brought about by climate change. Coastal towns and cities are likely to be displaced by rising sea-levels, while desert communities in the American southwest may dry up altogether, he said.

It’s important to hold onto North Ruckle’s history, in Johnson’s words, because, “There was a very strong sense of community there.” It was so much more than a subdivision where people buy into ready-made neighbourhoods without neighbourly connections, he continued.

Johnson hopes to link his formative platform to historical accounts by North Ruckle residents he said he’d interview after more time has passed.

“I want to get at what it was like to live in North Ruckle — not what it was like to have to leave North Ruckle,” he explained.

So far, Johnson said his online map of North Ruckle connects neighbourhood lots with photos taken around corresponding homes. There are some kinks to work out between the map and other aspects of what Johnson called his “proof of concept.”

In the meantime, Johnson said he plans to recruit capable partners who can help him bring the project to fruition. Those interested are asked to email him at



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