Col. Walker’s home floats away

June 17–19, 1897

Man surveying flood damage on the Bow near 2nd St. East
The City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA 2013-029-005

Both rivers and many of the surrounding creeks rose in the flood of 1897. Bridges were damaged or destroyed, often by the debris of other bridges being washed into the support structures.

The Eau Claire Power Plant at Prince's Island was flooded and their dam was in danger of failing. Unlike in the 1884 flood, the logs remained in their booms and so posed no threat to the structures on the river. Fish Creek rose to at least ten feet above its low water level and damaged much of the irrigation infrastructure including William Roper Hull’s system.

The Elbow valley between the Mission Bridge and the race track gate in what is now Elbow Park was completely under water. The agricultural racetrack downriver from the Mission Bridge was covered, but the men and horses, on hand to participate in Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, were saved by the quick thinking of Ed Mellon, proprietor of the Blue Rock Hotel. Realizing the river was rising, he sent a messenger to Briggs farm to wake the men so the horses could be moved.

Several houses on the flats south and west of the Langevin Bridge were flooded and some were carried away when the banks were undermined. Over 60 displaced families were given refuge in churches, hotels and the jail. Colonel Walker was among those who lost their homes.


The flood began on June 17 when the Bow River rose rapidly, overflowing its banks around midnight. The situation was compounded when a flood surge on the Elbow River hit in the early hours of June 19, 1897.

1897 Submerged HousesSubmerged houses on the Bow River near 2nd St. E. (Credit: The City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA 2013-029-006)

The Langevin Bridge has been seriously injured and can be only used by foot passengers until the structure is repaired, and as this bridge is the only outlet for vehicle traffic, its being closed is a very serious matter both to parties who cannot reach Calgary as well as to those who reached the city before the floods and have not been able to return to their homes. The Alberta Tribune, June 26, 1897


The City fire brigade and the North West Mounted Police worked throughout the night of June 17, moving women, children and furniture from the flooded district. The fire brigade was given $75 in recognition of its efforts.


The flood caused a quarter of a million dollars in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure of the city. A number of bridges were caught in a domino effect of destruction as the one of the two spans of the Calgary Hydraulic Company Bridge (which carried its flume from Bowness to Montgomery), floated down the Bow River and took out the two pony-truss spans on the south end of the Bow Marsh Bridge. In turn, one span of the Bow Marsh Bridge was carried downstream where it struck a pier of the old Langevin Bridge, breaking it up. The centre pier of the old Langevin Bridge sank but the bridge was not carried away. The impact had, however, compromised the structure so vehicular traffic was suspended and the bridge was open only to pedestrian traffic.


Once again, funding for the rebuilding of the bridges was difficult to obtain. The rebuilding of the Bow Marsh Bridge and repairs to the Langevin Bridge were delayed until August 1897 when the Territorial Government agreed to pay these costs.

At their meeting on July 27, Town Council unanimously decided to provide aid to flood victims. The Town hoped to obtain funds from the Territorial Government to cover the cost. The Territorial government, had funds for bridge repairs but not for individual residents or business. Mayor Orr offered to give lots to ten of the worst affected people from his own land holdings in Inglewood. A committee consisting of Arch Deacon Cooper, Rev. J.C. Herdman and Rev. W.E. Perrin was created to receive and distribute public donations for a relief fund.


The Bow Marsh and Langevin Bridges were repaired and the community rebuilt.


By this time Calgary had a second newspaper, The Alberta Tribune. Bookseller J.C. Linton also made a photographic record of the event and sold the pictures at his store on Stephen Avenue.


The peak water flow on the Bow River above the Elbow was 2265 cubic metres, making it the largest flood in Calgary's history since the arrival of the CPR in 1883. (Source: Get to Know the Bow River Calgary River Forum Society 2012).