New Brunswick

Worst floods in New Brunswick history: how 2018 compares

It's among the worst floods New Brunswick has seen in recent memory, but it won't be the last.

Flooding a part of recorded history in the province for more than 300 years

Flooded streets in Fredericton in the spring of 1936 — which, like 2018, was a major flood year along the banks of the St. John River and its tributaries. (New Brunswick Provincial Archives)

Spring 2018 is walloping low-lying areas of New Brunswick with some of the worst flooding in recent memory — but it's far from the first time.

It certainly won't be the last.

Floods have been part of recorded history in New Brunswick for over 300 years.

The first written record of flooding was in 1696, when a late, very high spring freshet delayed crop planting for the residents of a small French settlement at Jemseg.

More recently, in 2008, high water levels forced evacuations and caused millions in damage across the province.

Here's a look at how the 2018 water levels and damage compare so far.

What happened: In late April and early May 1923, melting snow, heavy rain, high tides and warm temperatures result in high water throughout the province. 

Water level: Eight metres above the winter low level in the Fredericton area. The flood stage is 6.5 metres.  

Damage details: Two deaths. One man drowns in the flood-swollen Magaguadavic River when his boat overturns and another in the West Branch of the Musquash River while trying to save livestock. In Fredericton, street lights are shut off because of flooding at the Maritime Electric plant on Shore Street.

Cost: Premier Walter Foster estimates total damage across the province at between $5 million and $10 million. The public accounts for 1923 and 1924 show about $380,000 is spent on bridges as a result of the 1923 freshet: 57 bridges are damaged or destroyed, according to Provincial Bridge Department records.

How it compares: In Fredericton, water levels of about eight metres are expected to last another day and  a half. But no deaths or catastrophic bridge failures so far.

What happened: Between April 17 and April 22, 1934, melting ice and snow combined with heavy rain inundate Maugerville, Sheffield, Jemseg and Oromocto.

Water level: Unknown.

Damage details: Hundreds of families in the flats below Fredericton are forced to evacuate as barns are lifted from their foundations, greenhouses destroyed, pigs drowned and all communications are disrupted for several days. All highways to the south of Fredericton are blocked by water, and a city warehouse at the foot of Regent Street is damaged by moving ice.

It's among the worst floods New Brunswick has seen in recent memory. 1:03

Cost: Overall damage to farms and other property is estimated at $250,000. A fox farmer in Maugerville estimates his loss of foxes at $2,000

How it compares: Lighter fox casualties in 2018.

What happened: High temperatures and rainfall over two days causes an unusually early spring breakup from March 16 to 25, 1936, resulting in ice jams and major flooding.

Water level: 8.9 metres, about 7.6 metres above summer level. The water level at Oromocto is the highest in 37 years.

Damage details: Flooding in much of the Fredericton business area, including Queen Street from St. John Street to Waterloo Row. The legislature is surrounded by water. Newspapers speculate politicians will have to access the building by rowboat. Twenty-eight provincial bridges are destroyed or damaged.

Cars navigate downtown Fredericton during the 1936 flood.

Cost: Losses of $2 million are reported in downtown Fredericton alone, much of that for the railway bridge destroyed by the ice jam. A New Brunswick Department of Public Works report states "the flood caused expenditures of over $100,000 on bridges and $50,000 on ordinary roads as well as greatly increased expenditures on Legislative Buildings and offices and the Normal School."

How it compares: Higher water levels than 2018 — but likely a shorter duration. The 1936 flood waters subsided comparatively quickly as soon as the ice jam was released.

What happened: Above-average snowfall melts in rainstorms April 21 and 24. A few days later, another serious storm brings higher temperatures and more rain, averaging about three inches.

Water level: During an ice jam, the water level on the St. John River reaches 8.9 metres — nearly 7.6 metres above summer level.

Damage details:  One death, plus major property damage in Fredericton and to farms and homes from Maugerville to Jemseg. Water pours into the basement of the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel and the legislature. A fish hatchery at Mactaquac and an 87-unit trailer park in Lincoln are destroyed.

This photo taken May 1, 1973, shows the view looking south down Waterloo Row from the south side of the Beaverbook Art Gallery. (New Brunswick Provincial Archives)

Cost: The total economic cost of the flood is estimated at $11.9 million.

How it compares: The 1973 flood sees the highest water levels ever recorded in Fredericton during a flood event.

What happened: Record-breaking snowfalls, a late spring thaw and heavy rain combine with warm weather, causing water levels to rise rapidly along the St. John River and its tributaries between April 23 and May 2.

Water level: 8.36 metres in the Fredericton area.

Damage details: Swamped bridges, dozens of road closures, and some 60 people and 140 farm animals are rescued. About 50 streets are completely or partially closed in Fredericton. A total of 1,000 people are evacuated across the province, and at least 2,000 are affected by flooding.

Fredericton during the 2008 flooding, as pictured from the air above the St. John River. (New Brunswick Provincial Archives)

Cost: More than $23 million in damage to roads, railways, homes, farms and small businesses in communities along the St. John River. More than 600 properties are affected and some homes are beyond repair. A number of homes and businesses are condemned.

How it compares: Comparable to 2018. In some regions, the 2008 flooding rivals the record-breaking 1973 flood.

About the Author

Julia Wright

Information Morning Saint John host

Julia Wright is a born and raised Saint Johner, and the host of Information Morning Saint John on 91.3FM. She has been with the CBC since 2016.