The historic floods which commenced on June 20 and struck hard across southern Alberta in general, and such communities as High River, Calgary, Bragg Creek, Exshaw and the Siksika First Nation in particular, are a stark reminder of the devastation that severe flooding can bring.
Fortunately, although the floods along the Red Deer River were amongst the highest on record, there was not as much damage as had been feared, due to the buffering effect of the Dickson Dam and excellent dedicated work by City of Red Deer staff.
Unfortunately, Red Deer was not as lucky in the past.
The worst floods in the history of the Red Deer River may have been in 1902. More than 30 cm of rain fell in June and early July. There were news reports that the approaches to the bridges across the Red Deer River were washed out and that local sawmills had heavy losses of logs. However, there was not a good measurement of the peak river flows. Moreover, there wasn’t much property in low-lying areas near the river yet.
The greatest recorded flood occurred in late June 1915.
The levels of the Red Deer River were already high due to the snowmelt from the mountains. With more than 122 mm of rain falling, the Red Deer River spiked upwards to alarming levels. Early on the morning of Sunday, June 27, it was reported that the river was running at more than 3m above normal.
By 9 p.m. in the evening, the news reports stated that the river was up 5.8m (19.05 ft).
There was concern about the safety of the Gaetz Avenue traffic bridge and even the C.P.R. bridge across the river.
The City’s power plant and water pumping station were knocked out of commission. It was estimated that some 30m (100) ft. of the south bank of the river washed away alongside Waskasoo Cresc.
The flats in North Red Deer were submerged.
The highest recorded flood took place on April 4, 1943. The ice jammed a short distance below the City at 4 a.m. during the spring break-up. The raging floodwaters quickly backed up. It was estimated that the river rose 4.6m in less than an hour. Before the day was over, it was reported that the river had peaked at an incredible 6.74m (22.10 ft).
The sleeping community was caught off guard.
One resident near the river woke up when the water flooded her bed. Others were alerted by the sound of the ice grinding against the walls of their houses. Some people had to be rescued from their homes by boat.
The City water treatment plant was knocked out of commission. Jack Teasdale’s riverside feedlot lost several thousands of dollars of cattle in the flood.
The worst flooding of the downtown area of Red Deer occurred in April 1901 when Waskasoo Creek spilled over its banks.
A large lake formed south of Eccles (47) St.
Several homes were flooded and some residents had to be rescued by boat. The floodwaters also spilled across Ross St. East into the old creek bed between what is now Gaetz United Church and the Central School grounds. The flood proceeded westwards along Stewart (53) St. into the downtown core. It was reported that some school children used pieces of wooden sidewalk as rafts to make their way to and from the higher ground where the school stood.
The severe floods of June 2005 came close to being a record breaker, but were shy of a historic peak by only a small amount. According to reports at the time, the Red Deer River flows were more than 1,710m³ in 2005; while in 1915, the flows peaked at 1,900m³. In comparison, reports are that the river flows hit 1335m³ in June 2013.
A scary enough experience, but fortunately, it was not as disastrous as the floods recently faced by southern Alberta.