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Volunteers Saved South Westminster in ’48 Flood

August 27, 2016
1948 south westminster dyke

Volunteers lay sandbags to bolster GN embankment serving as dyke at South Westminster during Fraser River flood of June 1948.

On June 1, 1948 at 7:30 in the morning, the dyke near Timberland Mill broke and the flooding Fraser River rushed in and covered the Brownsvile flats.

Emergency crews were already on hand and now worked “feverishly” laying sandbags.

A hundred soldiers of the 7th Regiment, Royal Canadian Engineers led by Lt Col H Minshall were stationed near Johnnie Wise’s old hotel beneath the Pattullo Bridge.

The break had occurred on the downstream side of the Mill. There the water lay up to 6 feet deep, while near the junction of Old Yale Road and Scott Road there was 2 feet of water.

It was feared the next high tide would wreak havoc with the homes and businesses of South Westminster. The tracks on the Great Northern Railway embankment remained above water and now served as the last bastion against the river.

Above the bridge to Port Mann the railway held firm, but downriver from the Timberland Mill the railway embankment ran inland from the riverbank.

A new sandbag dyke, 7 feet high and one half mile long was laid down in zigzag fashion from the Mill to the railway, cutting off the river from the south-east, but leaving about a square mile under 6 feet of water.

As this was accomplished, 10 pumps worked day and night lowering the water level behind the embankments between the Mill-GN dyke and the bridge.

1948 sandbag dyke saves South Westminster

Building a new dyke from Timberland Mill to Great Northern Railway – June 1948

“Not a sandwich served”

The dyke workers were just half the story of flood relief. They needed food, first aid, and for those from out of town, sleeping accommodation.

This was all accomplished by volunteers from the communities on the hill nearby at Whalley’s Corner,along the Trans-Canada Highway, at Strawberry Hill on Sandell Road and Kennedy on Scott Road.

Tom Binnie was in charge of Red Cross services in Whalley. Clarice Harkley and dozens of women volunteers organized meals and other necessities.

At Kennedy Hall, a couple of miles up Scott Road, which served as a dining room and bunkhouse during the emergency, Mrs Annie Wharf and Mrs F Corey supervised a rotating crew providing 24-hour attention.

“Food has been supplied largely through donations from merchants of the neighborhood and of Whalley, with generous contributions from the community women who are also giving their time for day and night shifts in the kitchen.”

Thousand of meals were served at sittings of up to 308 men at a time, most of them home-cooked. Their boast was “not a sandwich served.” One woman brought in 40 pies.

The dyke workers were a mixed bunch, comprising the unemployed, dignitaries, and even a cadre of high-school students from North Vancouver.

The Mayor of Blaine WA drove up the Pacific Highway from the United States with a convoy of gravel trucks and American volunteers. They were dispatched to the other side of the river.

Volunteers worked over a period of weeks, filling sandbags and raising dykes.

The flood crisis when dykes at South Westminster were overwhelmed was under control within a few days.

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