New Archives Exhibit: The Flood of 1915

The City of Edmonton Archives just launched a new virtual exhibit marking the 100 anniversary of the largest flood in Edmonton’s recorded history.  At 6am on June 27, 1915 the North Saskatchewan River started rising. When it finally peaked at 3am on June 29, it was over 45 feet (10 meters) above the low water mark! The images below contrast the flood levels with typical water levels.

EA-25-2 North Saskatchewan River Flood June, 1915

EA-25-2 North Saskatchewan River Flood June, 1915

EA-160-1326 Edmonton Skyline 1939 Typical water levels for the North Saskatchewan River

EA-160-1326 Edmonton Skyline 1939 Typical water levels for the North Saskatchewan River

EA-160-1399 North Saskatchewan River in Flood June, 1915

EA-160-1399 North Saskatchewan River in Flood June, 1915

As you can see in the above image, a loaded train was parked on the Low Level Bridge to stop it from washing away. The bridge was in danger not just from the force of the water but also from the impact and drag of debris as buildings from Walterdale and Ross Flats (today’s Rossdale) lifted from their foundations and floated downstream to hit the bridge.

On June 29, even as the waters were receding, Mayor William Henry presided over a City Council Meeting and recorded formal thanks to the Canadian Northern Railway Company, presumably for the train on the bridge, as well as City employees for their “self-sacrificing spirit” and “the energies of the men which greatly minimized the resultant damage.” Council also stated their support for whatever relief measures the City Commissioners undertook.

 

RG-8 Office of the City Clerk fonds 1915 Minute Book

RG-8 Office of the City Clerk fonds 1915 Minute Book

The 1915 flood changed Edmonton and is the reason for the beautiful River Valley parks we have today. Before the flood the area was an industrial hub of businesses and communities of workers and their families. Much of this was gone when the flood waters receded and Edmontonians made a conscious decision not to build to that extent on the river banks again.

For the exhibit, we’ve created a series of interactive maps that highlight pre-flood businesses along the river banks. The exhibit also features a short documentary created by former City Archivist Michael Payne. Have a look and tell us what you think in the comments of this post! We’d love to have your feedback.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Walker
Elizabeth has a Masters of Archival Studies from UBC and she’s been the City’s digital archivist since September 2010. She’s passionate about outreach and increasing engagement between the Archives and the community.
4 Comments
  1. Carole Whelihan
    2 years ago

    I always enjoy your articles Ms Walker. Very informative.

  2. sharon davis
    2 years ago

    What was the thinking for putting the train on the bridge if you know, Elizabeth? It seems to me that it would stress the bridge even more but I suppose the weight would keep the bridge from swinging and folding under? And can I just say that the person who drove it onto the bridge and got off was pretty damn brave! Great article, thank you!

  3. Elizabeth
    2 years ago

    Sharon, I believe the idea was that the weight would give the structure some stability, to stop it from moving as you say.

    I agree; they were really brave. I understand that the train was uncoupled in the middle and there was an idling engine at either end. Here’s an image of the other side: http://bit.ly/1gqkLBy The hope was that, if the bridge did become unstable, they would be able to try and get off it in time. Thankfully it didn’t come to that!

    My thanks to you and Carole for your kind comments!

  4. Linda
    2 years ago

    Many years ago I worked for the Hotel Mac for a summer, doing historical tours. Four of us university students researched stories like this about Edmonton’s past and about the era in which the Hotel Mac was built. We included this story as part of the hotel’s historical tour because the railway company had just finished building the hotel and was set to host the grand opening in July (15th? if memory serves). In addition to not wanting to lose the bridge, the company wanted to make sure that their guests could make it from one side of the river to the other for the grand opening.
    The train was indeed parked on the bridge and kept running for several days so that it could be moved if the bridge became unstable. This meant that someone had to be man the coal-engine the entire time. Needless to say, the railway company had a great deal of difficulty finding any volunteers for this job! In the end, they had to offer extra pay incentives (I believe it was triple their normal rate) and they still only managed to get a handful of men willing to risk sitting on the bridge in a running train engine for three days while the flood waters rose! These extraordinary measures are what warranted the council’s use of the term “self-sacrificing spirit” in their thanks to the railway staff involved.

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