In Splendid Isolation

July 2–5, 1902

Men in HMS Cupid rowboat on flooded street downstream from the Langevin Bridge.
City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA 2013-029-008

On July 2, 1902, the Bow River overflowed its banks near the Langevin Bridge. Two families were evacuated and the police were on standby to evacuate the rest of the area.

Two days later the Bow was said to be roar[ing] and rag[ing] like a fierce Niagara. (Calgary Herald July 8, 1902) It continued to rise, flooding the downtown to Reinach (4th) Avenue and 3rd Street E. Citizens felt compelled to view this historic event and many took a tour of inspection from the Bow Marsh Bridge to the Langevin. Kodak fiends recorded the event for posterity. Beside the press coverage in the newspapers was an ad stating Everybody a photographer and offering cameras for sale at Findlay’s Drugs. The community interest raised concerns for citizen safety and often hampered the efforts of those trying to assist the victims.

No-one can understand the raging Bow who did not see it at the Bow Marsh Bridge. Niagara at the whirlpool is not much madder. Albertan and Alberta Tribune, July 8, 1902

Langevin Bridge Walking a flooded area east of the Langevin Bridge on the Bow River.
(Credit: The City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA 2013-029-007)


There were actually two floods in the summer of 1902. The Bow River began to overflow its banks on July 2, 1902 and remained high for an unknown number of days. There was a second flood, reported in The Alberta Tribune on August 20th on both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.


The City's fire department and the North West Mounted Police were involved in rescuing people stranded by the flood. Because the rivers rose and then seemed to abate, many people did not evacuate and were subsequently stranded. One rescue by the North West Mounted Police took place at an Island near the St. Joseph’s Industrial school. A man had climbed to the top of his barn to avoid the rising waters. When the Mounties came to save him they found that his horse had nearly drowned, but his dog was sleeping in the loft and the chickens were roosting on the beams

Cappy Smart himself was called in to rescue people who, thinking that the river levels were falling, had refused to leave their homes. Smart nearly drowned as he maneuvered his boat into the bank and was swamped.

Calgarians once again showed their entrepreneurial spirit. Before the flood was even declared to be a flood, one enterprising soul launched his rowboat and charged 25 cents a ride between the shore on the south of the Bow River and the Langevin Bridge.


Of the two 1902 floods, the July flood was by far the worst. A log boom belonging to Eau Claire broke and the logs washed against the piles of a temporary train bridge build at Twin Bridges and weakening it. Mudslides at Shaganappi and Keith filled the cuts along the line and washouts stranded many travellers in the city. By July 8, rail service to the city was completely cut off, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the city. More importantly, this made it difficult to obtain supplies to make repairs to structures within the city. There was also a milk famine as most of the dairies were in the rural areas outside of the city and the dairymen couldn’t get their products to the shops.

The CPR system within the city was also badly affected by the flood. The centre pier of the CPR Bridge across the Bow River at Bonnybrook was damaged, and one span of the twin bridges at Bowness was washed away.

1902 Bow Marsh Bridge View of Bow March Bridge from south of the Bow River, 9th St. W.
(Credit: The City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives CalA 2013-029-002)

Several bridges within the city were affected as well. The Bow Marsh and Langevin Bridges were both damaged and had to be closed. In Eau Claire, the power house was flooded, resulting in a loss of electrical power to the city. The dam, however, was able to withstand the raging waters and was not damaged.

1902 Flood Gates 1902 Flood Gates, Bow River. (Credit: CHFH Flood Gates, Bow River, Calgary)

As in previous floods, families in the low lying areas around the Langevin Bridge had to be evacuated. According to the news reports, the rising waters of the sober Elbow were higher than they had ever been and threatened the Holy Cross Hospital.


Mr. McHenry, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, made his way west to look into a complete overhaul of the railway bridges in the area. Repairs to the rail system had trains coming into the city by July 11.

The City Council initiated plans to construct a wall along the southern bank of the Bow River from Prince's Island to the Langevin Bridge. This project was completed in 1905.

At best the transportation east and west for a week will be of a very lame kind and will be by various methods. There is no hope of the south, and it will be two or three weeks before trains will be running regularly Albertan and Alberta Tribune, July 8, 1902.


A retaining wall was constructed along the south bank of the Bow River to help prevent the undermining of the area in future floods.



The peak water flow on the Bow River above the Elbow was 1557 cubic metres. (Source: Get to Know the Bow River Calgary River Forum Society 2012)