Work crews reinforce railway dykes in South Westminster against the rising Fraser River during the flood of 1948. (Photo by Roy LeBlanc, Croton Studios, courtesy of the New Westminster Public Library, accession number 3083)

North Delta history: The historic floods of May

Every recorded catastrophic flood on the Fraser River has happened in May, the largest in 1894

Every recorded catastrophic flood on the Fraser River has happened in the month of May. A large snowpack coupled with a warm spring causes a fast melt and the river to overflow its banks. The flood plains of the Fraser Valley are particularly vulnerable.

In May of 1894, the Fraser River had its largest recorded flood; Abbotsford and Chilliwack were particularly hard hit. North Delta lay above the flood waters, but farmers in South Westminster to the north and Ladner to the south faced weeks of their land and homes inundated with murky silt-laden water. The communities of North Delta opened their homes and fields to accommodate their less fortunate neighbours and their livestock.

There was another devastating Fraser flood in May of 1948. High schools were closed so that students could go down to the riverside to help fill and pack sandbags to shore up against the rising waters in the stricken communities. With a larger population compared to during the 1894 flood, 22,000 people in the Fraser Valley had to be evacuated. Again, North Deltans opened their homes and fields to neighbouring communities.

Les Starheim, a longtime resident of Annieville, remembers the 1948 flood and how the spit of land that separated Gunderson Slough from the main river channel was submerged and the sheds that accommodated boat builders, net sheds, boat mechanics and other marine businesses had water up to the floorboards. Generally, though, the boats were safe as they rose with the swollen river and fell with the tide.

RELATED: HISTORY: Memories of 1948 Fraser River floods still run strong

Recognizing that there was a need for flood control measures after the 1948 flood, 250 miles of dykes were built in the 1950s and 1960s and 48 kilometres of the river’s channels were deepened in the lower reach of the Fraser. When waters again rose in 1972, flood conditions were more reasonable controlled, with dykes, prediction and timely sandbagging. However, there was still $10 million of damage, mainly in Prince George and Surrey.

With the increasing population along the Fraser River and the projected increased risk of sea level rise as a result of climate change, a consortium of all levels of government under the auspices of the Fraser Basin Council was formed and a major study was undertaken. The result — phase 1 of the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy, published in May 2016 — showed that risks were projected to worsen over the next 85 years. It is estimated that should flooding at the predicted level occur, it would result in $20 to $30 billion dollars of damage, which would be “the most costly natural disaster in Canadian history to date, creating severe strain on the regional, provincial and national economies.”

The group behind the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy have met for the past three years to consider the problems of Fraser River and coastal flooding. They have sponsored in-depth research and commissioned experts to compile solutions. On May 21, an interim report will be available to the public outlining the extent of predicted flooding and detailed plans for preventing extensive damage. There will also be an updated atlas of affected areas and online information accompanying the report. After public input, action will be implemented by all levels of government beginning in May, 2020.

Nancy Demwell is a board member with the Delta Heritage Society (formerly the Delta Museum and Archives Society).

RELATED: North Delta history: The fierce frozen Fraser

SEE ALSO: North Delta history: Strife, strikes and militia on the Fraser River

SEE ALSO: North Delta history: The eulachon, a part of our past



editor@northdeltareporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

OPP looking for suspect after Best Buy credit-card fraud in Surrey

Ontario Provincial Police believe suspect has links to Surrey and Langley

B.C. premier hints at twin-tunnel plan for George Massey Tunnel

John Horgan cancelled plans for a 10-lane bridge to replace the 60-year-old tunnel shortly after taking office

Surrey residents voice disappointment with Surrey’s first public consult on policing plan

First ‘public engagement’ meeting on plan to swap out the RCMP for a city-made police force in Cloverdale Thursday

Eight alleged dealers face charges for Surrey-Langley drug ring

Police say the group is linked to the ongoing gang conflicts in Metro Vancouver

Cloverdale students honour veterans at inaugural luncheon

Hold High the Torch hosted 30 veterans at Salish Secondary luncheon

600 new campsites coming to provincial parks and recreation sites across B.C.

Tourism Minister announced half of the new spots to 13 most popular provincial parks

B.C. Supreme Court dismisses review around ferry workers’ right to strike

B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union collective agreement expires November 2020

Fraser Valley man dead after car hurtles from embankment west of Campbell River

Survivor of crash rushed to hospital by helicopter in serious condition

Police investigate ‘serious collision’ between motorcycle, truck in Vancouver

Motorists asked to stay away from Blanca Street & West 4 Avenue

Municipalities protest after B.C. declares marijuana crops ‘farm use’

UBCM president seeks answers in letter to John Horgan government

CMHC defends mortgage stress test changes amid calls for loosening rules

Uninsured borrowers must now show they could service their mortgage if rates rose two per cent

Metro Vancouver mayors ask public to lobby feds for annual $375M transit fund

Mayors renewing their call for transit funding as federal election looms

B.C. woman left ‘black and blue’ after being pushed off 40-foot cliff at lake

West Shore RCMP looking for witnesses as investigation continues

BC Ferries asks boaters to learn signals and be careful around vessels

BC Ferries responded to 15 marine emergencies in 2018

Most Read

l -->