City battles swollen Columbia River in June 1948

Trail Celebrates 120 Years – City battles swollen Columbia River in June 1948

In 1948 Council declared a state of emergency due to a rising Columbia and risk of flooding, homelesses and typhoid fever.

As the Trail Times continues to celebrate 120 years of reporting local news, we’ve donned white gloves and browsed through historical newspapers, looking to highlight some of the City of Trail’s landmark events.

“So free and wild was the Columbia River until man set hand on land.”

That’s wistful sentiment for lost landscape in the Columbia Basin following 1960s dam construction. But what it meant for Trail, especially in June of ’48, was flooding, homelessness and the threat of typhoid fever.

The Trail Daily Times front page screamed “Council Declares Emergency” June 1 that year. City council made its state of emergency call the previous evening and within hours, B.C.’s then-Premier Byron Johnson declared an emergency throughout the province.

Trail council’s action gave power to the city’s Chief Constable John Laurie, enabling him to swear in special constables to help protect lives and property.

“Within an hour of the declaration of an emergency he (Constable Laurie) had sworn in 40 constables who were dispatched to the working areas to keep crowds of sightseers back,” wrote the Trail Times reporter, noting, “meanwhile city hall, nerve centre of the gigantic flood relief organization, has been equipped with extra telephones, with additional lines to the city engineer, the city clerk and the police department.”

The emergency state also allowed Flood Relief Director J.P. Coates, the city engineer, to ban the sale of gasoline to “non-essential” users because stock of the valuable fuel dropped precariously low.

Fire fighting equipment was dispatched to protect East Trail property and special police guards were stationed on the river wall beside members of the 24 Heavy Artillery Regiment.

The rising river swelled onto Columbia Avenue in East Trail, forcing evacuation as well as threatening those living on Groutage and Riverside avenues. (Notably, in the June 3, 1948 Trail Daily Times edition, flooding was said to persist, leading to a four-block evacuation of those homes and a nightly curfew siren sounded from city hall)

Fleets of trucks were on site throughout the night, with crews hauling gravel and hundreds of planks to the reinforce the retaining wall on “Central Trail’s Esplanade, appearing in a few hours as if by magic as the efficient organization (C.M. & S. Company) galvanized into action.”

Public health clinics organized by Dr. J.S. Daly, the city’s medical health officer, had nurses and Red Cross members inoculating hundreds against the bacterial infection called Salmonella typhi, or typhoid. The potential health crises lingered, however, because the city only received 1,000 vaccine doses when 5,000 were ordered.

In efforts to avoid contagion, the newspaper reported Dr. Daly, “despite objections from parents and from members of the city council,” repeated instructions for residents to boil water before drinking.

“Dr. Daly admitted that the city’s water supply was pure but said that with so many basements under water, it was quite possible for the typhoid virus to enter the main supply through even a slightly leaking tap,” wrote the reporter.

Elsewhere on the front page is a story about the Fraser River shoreline receding slightly after leaving thousands flood stricken; dogged workmen battling the flood menace in Pitt Meadows; a mobile 25-bed Red Cross emergency hospital readied for shipping into the interior; and United States President Harry S. Truman mobilizing aid for the downstream flood disaster.

Evacuations began June 1 in Portland Oregon as the swollen Columbia River brought peril, causing the Pacific Northwest’s “greatest disaster,” flooding hundreds of farms and small cities.

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