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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article

THE FLOOD OF 1915

Written By: Michael Dawe
Published By: Red Deer Express
Article Used with permission. © Copyright Michael Dawe, 2005
2005-06-11

Over the past two weeks, there has been considerable media coverage of the serious flooding in Southern Alberta. The worst flooding in Red Deer’s history also took place in June, 90 years ago, in 1915.

That spring had been quite a grim one. There was terrible news from the War. The First Canadian Division was embroiled in the terrible Battle of Ypres, the first battle in which poisonous gas was used as a weapon. The Red Deer newspapers were soon full of accounts of local men being killed or wounded in action. There was a sense of gloom everywhere.

In the latter part of May, the men of the 12th Canadian Mounted Rifles left their training camp in Red Deer for overseas. While a huge crowd estimated at between 1500 and 2000 people saw the young soldiers off at the C.P.R. station, there no formal speeches or rounds of cheering, just tearful farewells.

There were a couple of wet spells in mid-May and again during the May 24th weekend. In early June, however, the rain really started to pelt down. Towards the end of the month, it was reported that more than 122 mm had fallen with more to come.

The levels of the Red Deer River were already high due to the snow-melt from the mountains. With the continuing heavy rains, the river soon spiked upwards to alarming levels.

Early in the morning on Sunday, June 27th, it was reported that the river was running at more than three metres above normal. By 9 o"clock in the evening, the gauges showed that the river was now up 5.8 metres, (19.05 feet), a good half metre more than the highest levels reached during spring ice jams.

Large quantities of trees, roots, squared timbers and other flotsam were swept along with the floodwaters. Concern was raised about the safety of the Gaetz Avenue traffic bridge and even the C.P.R. bridge across the river.

The men at the Great West Lumber Mill, which was situated where Bower Ponds are located today, worked feverishly to save the mill’s dam and holding ponds. Nevertheless, some of the company’s store of logs were swept away.

There was heavy damage along Waskasoo Crescent. It was estimated that some 30 metres (100 feet) of the south bank of the river washed away. The flats in North Red Deer were soon submerged, with considerable damage being done to the Ice House.

As the water rose, the fires in the City power plant were doused. With no electricity, the City was plunged into darkness. Ironically, given the abundance of water around, since the electric pumps were out of commission, there was no domestic water service either. Concerns were raised in case a major fire broke out.

By Monday morning, the water levels began to subside. By noon, they had dropped enough that the boilers at the power station were re-fired and electrical service was restored. Nevertheless, the Western General Electric’s staff spent much of the rest of the day wading around in water up to their knees.

As the week progressed, the civic authorities began to assess the damage. The consensus was that, all things being considered, the situation was not as bad as it might have been. Certainly, things were worse in Calgary where two bridges were swept away and an estimated three quarters of a million dollars of damage had been incurred. In Edmonton, 500 homes were flooded and 20 houses were swept away by the North Saskatchewan River.

Ironically, the disaster soon proved to be a blessing. With all the abundant moisture, there was a tremendous boost to the local crops. The late summer and fall turned warm and dry and Central Alberta’s farmers were able to harvest the largest bumper crop in history.

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