Chapter 5: The Great Flood Of '94
| The winter of 1893-94
had been particularly long. The following spring
had been cold, resulting in very little melting of snow
in the mountains. When it did warm up in the latter
part of May the fast melting snow caused the Fraser to
overflow its banks. It came to be known as
the Great Flood of 1894.
Rowboats were able to tie up at the post supporting the elevated sidewalk to Taylor's Fort Langley Hotel. The waters rose halfway up the windows in Towle's Commercial Hotel. Luckily both hotels remained in place. The flood water did not reach the Hudson's Bay Company Store as it had been built well up on the slopes. The Roman Catholic Indian Church on McMillan Island stood in water halfway to the bell tower.
The embankment of Otway Wilkie's farm gave way and inundated 1000 acres of prairie behind his farm in five minutes. Wilkie and his family watched as the waters carried away his prized Berkshire pigs, his fences, orchard of 70 trees, and topsoil to Langley Prairie. The Wilkie family managed to escape by boat.
The crops of Robertson and Baker on the Albion flats across the river from Fort Langley were completely submerged.
The flood waters also gave Fred McLellan's pregnant wife troubles. The living level of their home was completely engulfed forcing Mrs. McLellan to flee upstairs with her one year old son Neil. All the excitement brought on the termination of the woman's pregnancy and she went into labour. Fortunately Mrs. Stanley Towle was on hand and able to act as midwife. She (155) tied Mrs. McLellan's youngster to his bed to make sure he would not fall into the swirling waters and then proceeded to deliver his brother. The baby came into the world amid all the confusion on May 20, 1894.
Four days later, in celebration of the Queen's Birthday, a school picnic was being held in James Mackie's Grove. The mothers present talked continuously about the rising water and their anxiety conveyed itself to the youngsters. The picnic ended well before sunset and the children were instructed to go straight home.
A few of the children instead walked from the picnic site to the bank of the Fraser. At the riverside were several grave- faced men. All of a sudden one of them ordered everyone to clear out. They did.
Where the group of men and children had stood no other person has stood since. Before midnight the swirling waters of the Fraser were out of bounds. For several hundred yards back of the original shoreline the bank was washed away over the length of more than a mile.
The flood caused the Michaud family great concern. The settlement of the Fraser Valley by land hungry easterners following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway had done them out of the Hudson's Bay Company Farm at Langley Prairie. They were forced to look elsewhere for pasturage for their growing beef herd. Michaud had chosen Sumas Prairie and had his sons Zotique and Maximilian Junior drive the three or four hundred head of cattle up-river and establish a ranch. When the area flooded during the spring run off the cattle made for the higher ridges. The flood put these ridges under water. Thomas York sent word to Michaud that his cattle would all be drowned unless he did something.
The two Michaud boys and all the help they could muster spent two weeks rounding up the herd. Once this was done Old Joseph Michaud arrived on the scene in a row boat. He managed to coax a few of the heifers to take to the water and swim behind the boat. Soon the entire herd was in the water swimming towards the mountainous terrain above the water level two miles away. All the cows and their calves made the arduous (156) swim although once in awhile a calf would take a rest by swimming piggy-back on its mother's back. Not one bull made the swim.
The flood made John West, captain of the Defender, a local hero. His scow bottomed boat was able to navigate through the shallow water and rescue stranded farmers and their stock. The Defender was not the only boat built at the West Mill. In the late 1890's William West built the Royal City. He took one year to build the boat which was launched during the spring freshet. He did all the work himself except the planking. He got the 120 foot long planks from the Brunette Saw Mill in New Westminster. He bought the engines for the Royal City in Seattle cheap because the former owner could not make them run. William's father fixed the governors once he got them home and they worked perfectly. William was only able to insure the steamer for $7,500. The Royal City was used in 1899 to bring New Westminster people to the Chilliwack Fair for half fare.
It was this steamer that blew up at Mission City in 1902 killing one person. In 1903 the Defender was sold to the Harrison River Mills Timber and Trading Company. In 1904 the Pheasant, 112 feet in length, was built for George Majors at the West Mill. He immediately sold it to J. A. Cunningham at Port Essington on the Skeena.
In 1897 Davis Moss Coulter stopped off at Fort Langley enroute to the Yukon goldfields to visit with former school chums Hugh Davidson and Robert Riddell. Coulter, from Milverton, Perth County, Ontario, had taught school for 15 years at $400 per annum, before coming to British Columbia. The two store keepers suggested that he buy their Murray's Corners Store. Coulter wrote back east to school teacher friend John Walter Berry and asked if he was interested in the venture. Berry replied in the affirmative without ever seeing the store. As early as 1894 Davidson had left Langley to work for the Rithet Wholesalers on the Skeena. Upon selling the store, both men went to work for the Victoria merchant. Leaving the Rithet Company Riddell went to Coleman, Alberta, to manage its coal mines. In 1905 Davidson began farming on the Salmon River flats. He was among the first (157) Fraser Valley farmers to have Ayrshire cattle in the province. He later went to Vancouver to work in the Hastings Shingle Mill.
Berry, like Coulter, had taught school in Ontario before coming to British Columbia. He was from Mildbay, Bruce County, Ontario. His wife, the former Lydia Bowman, had been raised in Berlin (Kitchener). They had been married in 1890 and had started their family in Ontario. Shortly after Berry's arrival the pair bought the general store at Fort Langley. Coulter ran the (158) store at Fort Langley while Berry operated the one at Murray's Corner. Soon afterwards Berry's sister Mary, and her husband, Michael B. Carlton, came out and purchased the general store in Haney. The three store keepers, all friends, were now in an excellent position to fix prices and swap inventory back and forth between stores. Berry used a high-wheeled wagon to freight his supplies across the Salmon River flats during highwaters from the fort store to his Murray's Corners store. Sometimes the road was under several feet of water and Berry had to drive between sticks which had been driven into the mud on either side of the road as markers. Berry's wagon for years doubled as the village hearse.
Michael Charlton lost his life shortly after his arrival while skating across the river from Port Haney to the fort store with his young son. Both the father and son fell through an air pocket in the ice and were drowned.
Other pioneers to die were John Jackson and John William Best. Jackson died Christmas day, 1892, when a tree he had drilled and fired fell on him. A native of Greenock, Ontario, he was the first man to be buried in the cemetery plot donated by William Murray. His stone reads:-
John William Best died after being crushed between two logs in the Baumgardner and Bovill Mill at Murray's Corners in 1900. He too was buried in the Murray's Corners (now Murrayville) Cemetery. Robert Monahan was the first caretaker of this cemetery.
Paul Murray passed away in 1903. Although the oldest, he was the last of the first three elders to be ordained on the mainland of British Columbia. He, along with Alexander McDougal of Mud Bay, and James McAdam of Surrey, were ordained by Reverand Dunn in 1876 in the school house at Innes' Corners.
About the turn of century the Charles Henry Walworth family, located in southwest Langley, contracted smallpox. Walworth had founded Walworth Settlement in the 1880's and had a small gold mining operation, complete with a Cornish wheel, located on his farm.
Upon contracting the disease the Walworth family, together with Thomas James Fielding and William Charles Graham escaped the dread disease, and as the story had been handed down, buried the four that died. They then burned the house and all its contents, including their clothes, and the walked to a neighbor's place stark naked to get a disinfectant bath and new wardrobe before associating with any other people.
Apparently members of the Jason Samuel Lewis family are buried in the same grave site. When road crews years later decided to complete North Bluff Road a relative of the Lewis family, the residing in California, objected to the possible disturbances of the graves. As a result North Bluff Road when built took a jog to bypass the graveyard.
As the nineties drew to close the population growth in the Fraser Valley justified new and faster modes of transportation.
|If you see something that is
incorrect or can provide additional information, please, drop us a line or contact Donald Waite directly.
Copyright © Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan