Sunday, March 18, 2007

Flood Warning

This area had a significant winter snowfall after a very wet autumn that left the ground saturated with water. Warmer temperatures in the past week started a rapid thaw and flood warnings were issued for some of the tributaries in the water shed. Flooding of the Grand River is nothing new and smaller floods, such as the one shown above in the 1930's, barely caused alarm. There have been some serious floods, one within my lifetime.

On May 18, 1974, I left McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario by bus to come home for the weekend. As we approached the town of Galt, Ontario, we were forced to return to Hamilton because of a flash flood. The downtown area was covered in four feet of water as this poor quality, but locally famous newspaper photograph shows. The policeman, John Shuttleworth, was quite a celebrity for his attention to his post.
Large areas of the watershed were flooded and I recall my future father-in-law, along with others, launching boats in the floodwaters.
After this major flood, another dam was built upstream near Guelph to control the flow of the Grand and Speed Rivers. Other local rivers do not have flood control systems in place and last week there was minor flooding in some smaller towns.

I went to downtown Galt last Thursday to see the area affected by the 1974 flood. The water was high and flowing quickly. Temporary flood walls had been readied near the bridges. There were four men in kayaks preparing to paddle in the white, cold water. The air temperature was below freezing and chunks of ice floated in the water. (I have more photos of these adventurous men on my Flickr site.) Becka and I watched them for about ten minutes before we were so cold that we headed home for a pot of hot tea.

Many communities have been built along this river. This stone amphitheatre is built in the ruins of an old mill. Building on a floodplain gave access to water power and transportation, but floods were a certainty with the spring thaw. Today, with a number of dams upstream, another major flood is less likely to occur. The building of dams can be controversial but they have become a necessity due to urban growth along the watershed.

The power of water is awesome and floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and rain will continue to leave their mark in spite of man's best preparations. The cold temperatures of the past few days have slowed the thaw and the flood risk has decreased significantly for now.

I love walking along this river, but will always choose to live above the flood plain.


  1. The power of water is intimidating, no doubt. It's nice that you and Becka braved the possible danger and came back to the dry, warmth of your house and some tea! Stay dry and warm!

  2. That old photo is something - talk about devotion to the job.

    I've never seen a flood like that, but can easily believe how scary it would be and wouldn't choose to live where it's possible either.

  3. Fascinating photos! I agree with you; I'd find my lodging away from the flood plain.

  4. The photo of the policeman at his duty post speaks volumes.
    Most interesting post--I read with special interest as my parents lived in Guelph for 3 yrs in the mid-1980s.
    Where I live, we contend with flooding. Harrisburg is located along the Susquehanna River. Even though it is an old shallow river around here, when it rains hard upstream, we get flooding. We had our most famous flood when Hurrican Agnes rolled through in 1972.

  5. Mary- I have canoed this river in the summer when the water was moving slowly. You would never get me in the white water!

    Laura- This policeman died recently and his obituary focused on this event. What a claim to fame.

    Ginger- Since there is a better flood control system now, there are some houses being built on the flood plain near the hospital where I work. I saw this flood and could never buy one of them.

    KGMom- Interesting that your parents were in Guelph. We spent a week in Harrisburg/Hershey in September 2003 looking around for family history (and chocolate!). There had been a lot of rain from a hurricane just before we arrived and there was significant local flooding in the area. We followed the Susquehanna River for a lot of the trip.


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