Fraser River Freeze & Flood

The Fraser River has always had a major impact on the Lower Mainland, and never more so than when extreme weather strikes.

In 1862, the Fraser Valley experienced one of the worst cold snaps in its recent history. During that winter, the Fraser River froze over completely. Though reports of hardship and starvation make it clear it was a very difficult time, at least one good thing came of the cold. A fun-loving group of people took to the ice to play a game of hockey. This event would be the first recorded instance of Canada’s favourite game being played in British Columbia.

1891 saw another freeze that had major consequences for the local sawmill, Fraser Mills. After its initial opening in 1889, Fraser Mills struggled to make a profit. Because the mill used the river to send and receive materials, it was forced to shut down operations for an extended period of time during the freeze of 1891. Combined with other factors such as poor prices for lumber, Fraser Mills was not able to recover from the business interruption and closed in the spring of 1892. Years later and after significant reinvestment and redevelopment in 1903, Fraser Mills would go on to become one of the largest and most productive sawmills in the world. The Fraser has also faced flooding; two of which have made the history books. The first one happened in 1894 and is considered, to this day, to be the largest and most severe flood known in the Fraser Delta. The river overflowed its banks from Harrison to the Pacific Ocean. However, since there were so few people living along the Fraser at the time, it is estimated that damages were minimal.

The second flood of note happened in 1948 and, while it was smaller than the flood of 1894, it had a more damaging effect. The Fraser Basin Council reported this flood caused 16,000 evacuations, destroyed 2,000 homes, and did $210 million in damages (in 2010 dollars). According to Environment Canada reports, flood waters rose over 7 metres in some places. Pictures of the impact of this flood on the District of Fraser Mills can be seen at Mackin House Museum.

Today, the Lower Mainland is protected from flooding by a network of dykes, pump systems, and emergency response plans throughout the Fraser Delta and beyond. Though flooding and freezing is less common these days, the effects of climate change may produce variable results in the future.

PHOTO CREDIT

Archive: Coquitlam Archives

Reference Code: CA CCOQ C6-S01-C6.109

Title: Flood at Fraser Mills townsite