With the relatively warm and dry winter, and (so far) dry spring, it is very unlikely that central Alberta will experience a spring flood along the Red Deer River and tributary streams this year. However, there were times in the past, such as 1925, 1943 and 1947, when spring break-up floods caused a great deal of damage and even loss of life.
While most of the stories in the history books involve major floods on the Red Deer River, there have also been times when there were significant spring floods of Waskasoo and Piper Creeks.
One of the worst floods in the downtown area of Red Deer occurred in April 1901, not long before the community was incorporated as a town. The primary cause was spring break-up. However, heavy rains kept the flood levels up for a considerable length of time.
A very large lake formed along the south side of town, extending from Eccles (47) St. to the base of the hills to the south and east. Piper’s Mountain, in what is now Rotary Park, became an island in the large flooded area.
Several old creek beds across the valley became full with the floodwaters. As the flood entered the small coulee along 52 St., the water rushed westwards towards Gaetz Avenue, cutting off access to the Central School grounds from the south and west. Children started using loose pieces of wooden sidewalk as rafts.
Another bad flood occurred in late April 1920. It was a very late spring. The snow started to melt in a significant way while much of the ground was still frozen. On April 28, Waskasoo Creek surged over its banks. The floodwaters flowed across the field on the north side of Gaetz Church (MacLean Field) and once again into the coulee to the south of 52 St.
City crews worked feverishly to build dikes along 48 Ave. to keep the flood from sweeping into the downtown core as far as Gaetz Avenue. In some places, the dikes had to be more than two metres in height.
On April 12, 1965, another big flood hit Waskasoo and Piper Creeks. The area south of 44 St. and South School became one huge lake. The 48 Ave. bridge at the foot of Spruce Drive was submerged, as was almost all of Rotary Park.
Fortunately, a cold front blew in. Overnight, the floodwaters receded by at least a metre. While flooding was still significant on the south side of the downtown, the crisis eased.
The city was not as fortunate on April 6, 1969. Over the Easter long weekend, Waskasoo and Piper Creeks broke their banks. Once again, the area south of 44 St., including Rotary Park, became a huge lake. Water extended across a portion of the Safeway parking lot.
Piper Creek began to flow on both the east and the west sides of Piper’s Mountain, leaving the houses in the valley on the west side of Spruce Drive cut off. At one point, the houses on 44 St. crescent were also threatened. City crews had to build sandbag barriers to keep the floodwaters back
Portions of 48 Ave. had to be closed as the water flowed over the roadway. There was widespread flooding in what is now Barrett and Coronation Parks. The ornamental foot bridge in Coronation Park, on the east end of 52 St., was swept away. City crews struggled to fish the remnants out of the creek downstream.
Problems extended into Red Deer County. Part of the Coal Trail/Delburne Road had to be closed as Piper Creek flooded the area on what is now the west side of the Westerner Grounds.
In the following years, Waskasoo Creek has been dredged and channels realigned. In 1971, the County of Red Deer did extensive work on the marshlands between Red Deer and Penhold to improve drainage and reduce flooding.
However, flooding along Waskasoo and Piper Creeks remains an issue. In the early 1990s, the 48 Ave. bridge was again temporarily submerged. In 1994, it was replaced by a higher and wider bridge. As well 43 St. on the north side of Rotary Park has frequently been closed due to flooding of the adjacent creeks.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.