Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fraser River Floods 1894 & 1948

PP500709 © Chilliwack Museum*

There once was a time, long ago, that the Fraser River flowed across the Fraser Valley unchallenged and unchecked by the dikes that hem her in today.  A force of nature,the Fraser River can be accommodating to the traveler, beautiful and deadly all at the same time, especially, when in flood.

Old timers still talk of "The Flood of 1948" but this was only one of a series of floods that have periodically plagued the Fraser Valley. In 1894, settlers in the Fraser Valley watched a similar event but losses were light given that there were few farms. The landscape of Chilliwack was quite different as well, the area was crisscrossed with rivers, and streams, the large shallow Sumas Lake further complicated drainage.

Chilliwack and Sumas Lake

Still the 1894 flood gave engineers a high-water mark to measure the annual freshet which usually crests in late May or early June.  A high snow pack and a sudden increase in temperature can see the snow melt and sluice down countless streams and creeks into the Fraser River adding to its volume.  Bruce Hutchison recounts the effects of the 1948 flood, somewhat sensationally, in his great book called "The Fraser"...

Quietly, slowly, inexorably the brown water rose beside the farm land below the canyon and the delta at the river's mouth. Before it earth dikes crumbled and dissolved like sugar, or suddenly, under pressure from below, exploded, tossing trees, stumps and barns into the air.  A cargo of uprooted trees and flotsam from the interior poured out to the sea, and with it poured the carcasses of milk cows, horses, pigs and sheep to be washed up on the rocks of the gulf islands and even on the beaches around Victoria.  The two transcontinental railway grades were submerged.  Except by air Vancouver was isolated from the rest of Canada.

All animal life fled before the water and a cat was actually seen swimming down the river with a mouse riding on its back.

After the 1948 flood governments recognized that seriousness of a reoccurring flood threat and stronger dikes were built to elevations 2 feet above the 1948 high-water peak. Other helpful measures that lessen the flow into the Fraser River include the diversion of the Nechako River and the construction of a number of water storage areas along the Fraser for hydroelectricity production. Still, there remains a sense of nervousness amongst the locals, some years, when the mighty Fraser River begins to rise in the late spring.

Interesting Links

Chilliwack Museum
Agassiz Harrison Museum
For more information on the preventative Fraser River dike work undertaken since 1948 click here.
History of the Fraser River dikes click here.
For snow pack and flood watch sites, Provincial Emergency Program click here.
Definitions and descriptions click here.

*Photograph shows boys on home made rafts and men in canoes on Mill Street during the flood of 1894. The photo was taken at the corner of Wellington looking north on Mill Street. Two houses in the background are the residences of W.A. Rose and G. Wilkinson, Victoria Ave. West. Benjamin Southwell Bradshaw sitting in canoe. Two of five boys on raft include Roy Chadsey and Alex Chadsey. Norm McGillivray visible on right with dog. Don McGillivray standing behind Norm.

Stephen Mullock RI is an award winning full-time real estate agent with 30 years of experience and hundreds of sales. Thinking of buying or selling real estate in the Fraser Cheam communities of Chilliwack, Agassiz or Harrison Hot Springs? Contact Steve (click here) for experience, local knowledge and friendly service you’ll be happy you did.

No comments:

Post a Comment