When I started working for the Agassiz-Harrison Museum in May of 2018, the level of the Fraser River was very high — the highest I had seen in my four years living in the Lower Mainland.
I expressed concerns about the water level, as I watched it every day on my drive along Highway 7 from Maple Ridge. One of our volunteers, Bunk Mackay, said to me: “You don’t need to worry about the river Lindsay. I’ll tell you when it’s time to worry. This is nothing compared to the flood in ‘48.”
Flood in 1948? This was the first I had heard about it, having grown up in southern Ontario. The year 1948 only had significance to me as that was the year my mother was born in Trenton, Ont. on May 17, about a week before the flood hit the eastern Fraser Valley.
I soon realized that “The Flood,” as it is so often described, was and remains a community benchmark in time. I dug into our archives, spoke with different volunteers and community members, and reviewed a number of more recent publications on the 1948 flood, in order to understand the different community perspectives. My interest was most captured by how our community members worked together during the weeks of high water, and the many weeks of cleanup that occurred after the water receded.
As 2018 was the 70th anniversary of The Flood, I worked with my volunteers and staff to develop an exhibit to commemorate the Agassiz-Harrison Valley community’s response. (The exhibit will be on display in our main gallery until the end of 2020 if you haven’t had a chance to check it out.)
|Ken MacDonald fishing in front of Agassiz’s Rexall Drugs during the 1948 flood. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)|
Unfortunately, only a handful of our community’s flood stories are incorporated into the exhibit as we have so many. Our archives hold several scrap books and many photographs that document what was going on in the community before and after The Flood. And let me tell you, some people had a real sense of humour! We have a photo of Sparky Wilson ready to “play tennis” on the flooded courts in her bathing suit. And let’s not forget Ken MacDonald “fishing” in front of Rexall Drugs. The museum is more than happy to have you take a look through these images and try to identify family and friends.
My research on the 1948 flood has clearly demonstrated how resilient and tight-knit our community is. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to round up the cows and move them to higher land, or to grab whatever personal items you could in your home and to pack them up with your family on the last CP train to Vancouver. Several children were separated from their parents during the evacuation, and community neighbours took care of them at the hotels and homes where they stayed until the waters had receded. Last but not least, the farmers made sure that the cows were milked and that the milk reached neighboring communities by boat.
After the clean-up, our community members worked even harder to plan and upgrade the district’s diking system. This is a structural engineering feat in itself, an effort that has protected our community from recurring disasters over the better part of the last century. Past, current and future citizens of the Agassiz-Harrison Valley thank those hardworking men and women who protected and preserved our community following the 1948 flood to the present.