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Time of High Water Past

July 2, 2012

In June 1903 work on the Fraser River bridge at New Westminster was halted due to high water.

The photo here is dated June 20, 1903,  and shows the paddlewheel ferry Surrey crossing to the south side, where the river has overflowed its banks.

Ferry Surrey  to South Westminster - high water - June 20 - 1903

Ferry Surrey on Fraser River, 1903

Detail from “Fleet Laid Up During Time of High Water”  – Vancouver Archives

According to the records, 1903 makes the Top Ten Years of Maximum Water Levels as measured at the Mission gauge, with the river cresting at 6.93 metres on June 21. That comes in at #10.

With the Fraser River now in freshet, a close watch is being kept on the water level at Mission which, to date, has not reached the level of 1903.

Flooding, and the potential for flooding, has long played a determining role in the history of the flats opposite New Westminster.

The Indian village of Kikait was on a higher portion of ground, said to have been raised by slaves of the Kwantlen, who were made to carry gravel here. Gravel and rocks have also forever been washed down the river, locked in ice-flows, or carried by the flow of the stream. Periodic slides – for example from Mary Hill, not far upstream, may also have brought gravel wash to the shore at this bend of the river along Queen’s Reach.

The site of the Indian houses was the most built-up area of the flats that extend down to opposite Annacis Island. Even so, when the Revenue Station was erected in 1859, it was built to stand on stilts, 5 feet above the ground. Sam Herring, the first to homestead here, complained during the flood of 1876—ranked #7— that the sturgeon were eating his cabbages! Brownsville Floodplain

Fraser River overflow – Brownsville area

Ebenezer Brown also chose his site, in Lots 3 and 4, because the land further down was subject to inundation. Nevertheless, the Yale Road — in early years laid down on corduroy ties of cedar – was often washed away.

The death of Robert Johnson, the well known proprietor of the Hotel at Brownsville, was attributed to his overexposure  ‘during the time of very high water’ in 1882. That year comes in at #4 on the top ten.

Not to be overlooked are the floods that occurred when winter rains, snow melt, high tides and strong winds combined to devastate the district in no less measure than the freshet. See 1895, when flood waters flowed up to the base of the hill.

The first protection from the floods since the construction work of the Kwantlen, was the raised grade of the railway built in 1889-1890, not altogether an effective barrier.

For more information on these and other such natural events over the years, please refer to earlier posts.

Top Ten Years of  Maximum Water Levels of Fraser River

Rank Year Day Level (mGSC)
1 1894 Jun 5 7.92
2 1948 May 31 7.61
3 1950 Jun 20 7.45
4 1882 Jun 21 7.34
5 1972 Jun 29 7.15
6 1964 Jun 5 7.01
7 1876 Jun 22 7.00
8 1936 Jun 5 6.97
9 1967 Jun 4 6.97
10 1903 Jun 21 6.93
Measurements at Mission gauge.
Source: BC Ministry of the Environment

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