If you would like to read a collection of stories about broken dykes and massive floods in BC, I recommend a gentle click on https://www.chilliwack.com/main/attachments/Files/1503/Fury%20-%20Flood%20Disaster%20Book%201948.pdf for outstanding reporting and dramatic photography of the Fraser Valley under attack by water.
When you open The Fury of the Flood, you will notice that the date on the cover is 1948, some 73 years ago, with most of the communities named either swamped or destroyed by this month’s brutal example of history repeating itself.
I was an unwilling witness to the 1948 catastrophe. I was stranded in a rural railway station with a trainload of fellow immigrants waiting for Canadian Pacific Railway to decide whether to transfer passengers to buses for the balance of our trans-Canada journey or continue on the rail track just slightly above flood water.
The sign on the station platform read: Hope. After close to two weeks of ocean and rail travel from Lancashire, “hope” was about all a young husband, a courageous wife and an 18-month-old son had left when told we may have reached the end of our rail journey. We were still a long way from our destination that we knew only as an Island somewhere beyond Vancouver.
On our stalled train, we were told that just ahead of us was the Fraser Valley with many lakes, streams and a raging river, all overflowing their banks and/or dykes. CPR engineers were checking the track to see if it was safe to use.
We waited and “hoped” and, as the young husband-father, I happily received the announcement that we would be proceeding down the Valley and into Vancouver soon. I can’t remember how long it took that day from Hope to Vancouver or if we were the last train through before the rail track became unsafe. I can remember looking across a vast expanse of water as we rolled very slowly west. I recall wondering if my ambition to find a better way of life for my young family had become a selfish search for adventure – and what would happen if the train stalled now.
In 2021, “an atmospheric river” has savaged British Colombia with even greater ferocity than the “storm surge” of 1948, and I think how fortunate we were 73 years ago. And I wonder why it is taking us so long to resolve a problem that’s been around since the first Fraser Valley dyke was built.
During our most recent flood, Global News reporter Jas Johal interviewed Michael Reeve, a refugee citizen of Merritt, the small community overwhelmed by the flood, unprepared for the speed and terror of the rising water. It was suggested that the flood was a “wake-up call.” Reeve’s reply: “We say it’s a wake-up call. How many times in the past have we said a big event is a wake-up call? And the next year, we forget about that wake-up call and announce another.”
A good answer and true.
The first recorded wake-up call in BC was in 1894 during the spring freshet – the mountain snowmelt. Through the centuries, there have been many accounts of floods; oral history passed along by native clans of the Fraser Valley. White developers have never had much time for oral history.
In 1935, we had a gauge record of flooding over the 20-foot level for 33 days and higher than 24 feet for 17 days. A simple search of the key words “flooding on the Fraser” informs us it is “a natural process during the spring freshet when the river carries vital nutrients to lower river eco-systems” and that “coastal floods are also natural processes and typically occur in winter during storm surge events.”
One last quote gleaned from the mass of readily accessible online wake-up calls: “The BC Lower Mainland was shaped by flooding over thousands of years from the Fraser Canyon and the Fraser Delta. Because floodplains have become extensively damaged over the past 200 years, the region now faces considerable risk from the Fraser River freshet and coastal flooding. A SINGLE MAJOR RIVER OR COASTAL FLOOD IN THE COMING DECADES COULD RESULT IN $20 TO $30 BILLION IN LOSSES.” (The emphasis is mine)
Will it take forever for those in land development and government planning roles to realize that flood plains are, well, plains that flood?
Consider the possibility that nature is getting a little impatient with our inability to read the wake-up calls it so clearly sends.