Not much is salvageable when the core of a city is washed away by a river.
That’s what happened in the City of Trail 70 years ago when the Columbia River peaked at 46 feet and swept away houses or left them submerged in dank water.
So the lack of tangible reminders from the great flood of ‘48 presented a challenge during the development of the Trail Riverfront Centre’s first in-house exhibit called “The Flood of ‘48: A River Ran Through It!”
But figure it out they did, and the must-see showcase is ready to open today and will run until the end of September.
“This is our prototype exhibit,” began Museum and Archives Manager Sarah Benson-Lord. “Where the city and the Trail Historical Society worked collaboratively, as we set out to do, when the new operations model was laid out.”
With no artifacts to display, the group had to come up with clever ways to depict and create an interesting experience for visitors, Benson-Lord said.
“We did a lot of research in the newspapers, that was our primary source of information,” she explained. “But we do have a few things we are putting out on display, including a video that was shot in 1948 during the flood.”
Turns out there’s an interesting story behind that video which many have likely viewed online.
“It just so happens that Cominco, at the time, had commissioned Associated Screen News of Canada, a film production company,” Benson-Lord revealed.
The news crew was in town shooting a feature on the smelter called “No Man is an Island.”
“That video is actually playing upstairs in ‘The Hill’ section of our gallery as a permanent fixture,” Benson-Lord said. “And because they just happened to be filming that at the time, they were also able to capture this momentous occasion of the ‘48 flood.”
The eight-minute reel captures the devastation of Mother Nature. More than that, however, the film reflects the resilient spirit of the people of Trail.
“The video is narrated with drama and period music,” Benson-Lord said. “And you just get a sense that ‘wow,’ this was a harrowing experience for Trail. And they really focus in the video, like we do in the exhibit, just how much the people rallied together.”
Open to the public during regular Riverfront Centre hours, entry to the exhibit and all museum galleries, is free.
The flood of 1948 was a province-wide crisis that impacted many B.C. communities situated along major tributaries. In Trail, the damage was immense along low-lying areas of town, especially Columbia Avenue on the east and Riverside and Groutage Avenues in West Trail.
Many are familiar with the images of Bay Avenue during the flood, but the exhibit turns attention to damage and efforts in East Trail, as well.
“The flood of 1948 was yet another example of the generosity and volunteerism for which the residents of Trail are known,” Benson-Lord said. “The community response was overwhelming.”
Newly opened in April 2018, the Trail Museum & Archives exhibits, interprets and manages the collections of the Trail Historical Society from the new Riverfront Centre in downtown Trail. Three dedicated galleries depict the social and cultural heritage of this industrial West Kootenay, known for its sports legacies and industrious roots. The Trail Museum & Archives is a City of Trail facility and is integrated with the Trail and District Public Library in the new centre.