On May 28, 1948, following a period of very warm weather, the dike on the Alouette River gave way and 7,000 acres of land were flooded in the northern sector of the community. (Pitt Meadows Museum)

On May 28, 1948, following a period of very warm weather, the dike on the Alouette River gave way and 7,000 acres of land were flooded in the northern sector of the community. (Pitt Meadows Museum)

Looking Back: The year Pitt Meadows Day was cancelled

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the 1948 late May Fraser Valley flood.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the 1948 late May Fraser Valley flood, and here we are again, just having experienced another larger than expected spring freshet.

Thankfully for Pitt Meadow, lessons were learned in ’48, and the arrival of Jan Blom in 1950 led to superior dikes and drainage systems.

In 1948, Pitt Meadows was a small, agriculturally based community with a population of fewer than 1,400 people. The community was, and is, surrounded by rivers on three sides.

Much of the land is lowland and was prone to flooding in the spring.

In 1948, the earthen diking system that protected Pitt Meadows’ lowlands was about 25 miles (40 kilometres) long and was built in a U-shape along the Alouette, Pitt and Fraser rivers.

On May 28, following a period of very warm weather, the dike on the Alouette gave way and 7,000 acres of land were flooded in the northern sector of the community, necessitating the evacuation of cattle and residents to higher ground.

The municipal hall and community centre (now the Heritage Hall), which was usually the centre for Pitt Meadows Day festivities, was taken over by B.C. Police Cont. Kelly Irvine and his volunteer flood fighters, who coordinated their efforts out of the building.

As the army had yet to arrive, the small volunteer force in Pitt Meadows relied heavily on help from Haney. Over the next number of days, workers reinforced dikes using truck loads of sand, while others walked the dikes around the clock, checking for holes and other leaks. Many of these volunteer flood fighters worked 24- to 36-hour shifts until the army arrived to assist with the fortification of the dikes.

Back at the hall, women were also part of the flood fight. Many of these ladies were part of the Women’s Institute, the group which generally spent that time of year preparing for and carrying out Pitt Meadows Day.

In 1948, these women toiled around the clock beside the ladies of the Red Cross feeding the flood fighters, often preparing as many as 300 meals per day as well as hundreds of sandwiches and gallons of coffee.

With the arrival of June, the Fraser River had become the centre of concern in Pitt Meadows. By June 3, the water was lapping at the top of the dikes in the Baynes Road area. That evening, the dike on the north side of Barnston Island gave way, taking the pressure off the dikes on the Pitt Meadows side and the water lowered by inches. It would seem the worst was over, and the cleanup would soon begin.

There was no Pitt Meadows Day in 1948, but the Athletic Association and the gun club organized a dance in July that raised more than $100 to repair damage to the hall floors caused by the hob-nailed boots of the flood fighters.

Pitt Meadows Day stayed dormant until the fledgling Pitt Meadows Lions Club re-activated the event in 1952, giving it the name “Miss Pitt Meadows Day.”

This May, with Pitt Meadows Day almost upon us, there has been a great deal of talk about the possibility of flooding in the lower Fraser Valley, including Pitt Meadows. But the event is still a go.

Join us at the Pitt Meadows Museum between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Visit our “8 Things You Never Knew About this Building” exhibit that celebrates our 20th birthday at this site, and join us at the Hoffmann site to make and launch paper planes and visit our smiths and engine guys.

Happy Pitt Meadows Day, everyone.

Leslie Norman is curator at Pitt Meadows Museum.