Harry Sanders: A quick history of Calgary floods

Historian Harry Sanders outlines the biggest floods of the past 150 years as Historic Calgary Week kicks off.

Worst flood to hit Calgary was in 1879, according to historian Harry Sanders

This year's flooding isn't the worst that Calgary has seen, says historian Harry Sanders. He lists, in order, the three worst floods to hit the city occured in 1879, 1897 and 1902. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Just in time for Historic Calgary Week, historian Harry Sanders outlines the past 150 years of flooding in Calgary.

  • LISTEN: Historian Harry Sanders talks flooding on the Calgary Eyeopener:

"The very worst one is 1879, so the fort is here, the aboriginal  people are here, not much settlement, though, so not a whole lot of impact," says Sanders.

Major historic floods







That flood was not measured, but by all accounts it's the most intense flooding to have hit the city, he says.

"Next comes 1897, which has yet to be exceeded. The second worst flood that we've had," says Sanders.

"Bridges were torn out, buildings flooded and the Walker House at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary replaced the one that was washed down the river in 1897."

Peak flow of the river and accounts from the time were taken into account when measuring the scale of the flooding, Sanders says.

Around 60 families were relocated after the 1897 flood and more homesteaders started to build on higher ground, says Sanders.

"The third worst flood, still yet to be exceeded, comes in 1902 and that's when the bridge, where the Hillhurst Louise Bridge is now, was damaged."

The Louise Bridge, at 10th Street N.W. in Hillhurst, connects Kensington to Calgary's downtown core. (Joshua Dawn/Flickr)

According to Sanders, there was a whole series of floods after that — including one in 1915 — that washed away the old Centre Street Bridge and one in 1929 that damaged the then-newly opened Calgary Zoo.

Calgary was fortunate in 1932 when flooding was held back by the Glenmore Dam, which had just been built.

"If this flood had occurred in 1931 the dam wouldn't have been ready and if it happened in 1933 the reservoir would have been almost full so it couldn't have held it back," says Sanders.

"The Glenmore Reservoir, when it was new, went from empty to a matter of inches from being crested in two days."

The city has built up so much in the flood plains because we have actually had less flooding than expected, says Sanders.

Harry Sanders lists 1897 as the second worst flood in Calgary's history. This shot was taken looking west from a point on the south bank of the Bow River near Langevin Bridge, which connects Bridgeland to the southeast side of what is now downtown. (Glenbow Museum)