Ice Jam Causes Flooding

December 1–6, 1950

Dog pound rescue.
Glenbow Library and Archives NA-2869-181

The Bow River began to flood during the early hours of Friday, December 1, 1950.

The flood was started by an ice jam in the vicinity of St. George's Island, causing the ground water level to rise and creating overland flows which breached the dykes. The flood threat receded by Wednesday, December 6, when the Bow River created a channel through the south side of St George's Island.

Twenty below zero weather and slippery footing under the swift and treacherous currents which swept down streets and avenues made rescue efforts difficult and boats, tractors and trucks were pressed into service to evacuate persons from threatened homes. Calgary Herald, December 2, 1950


The city had not experienced a flood since the building of the Glenmore Dam, leading Calgary’s population of over 120,000 to believe they were safe from all high water events.


As with other floods, the Police and Fire Departments took charge of the rescue operations, including rescuing stranded people by boat. Assisting the Police and Fire Departments was the Calgary Amateur Radio Emergency Corps who used five mobile transmitters to relay information to a central station on North Hill. The HMS Tecumseh supplied a truck and a boat to search for stranded people. Following a public appeal, citizens assisted rescuers by offering them boats and hip waders.

The Red Cross Disaster Committee established headquarters at fire stations on both sides of the Bow River. Evacuees who had no place to spend the night were taken to the stations, with the majority of the displaced people later moving to private homes.

Rescue operations were hindered by the swift flow of the cold water and the low temperatures. These factors caused exposure and frozen feet for rescuers who were forced to wade in the water to reach folks stranded by the flood. Some firemen filled their boots with hot water to keep their feet warm. Hot coffee and meals were prepared by residents near the flood disaster area for those involved in the flood rescue operations.

The dogs in the Dog Pound located at 3rd Ave and 3 St East were rescued by the Fire Department, as the building was in the path of the flood water.


Approximately 3,000 people were forced to abandon their homes. The area affected included 435 dwellings, 4 apartment blocks containing 77 suites, the Cecil Hotel and 40 other businesses.


On June 2, 1950, Mayor Mackay announced the creation of a flood emergency relief fund. This fund reached $18,853 by December 18, with contributions from the City of Calgary, Calgary Power Limited and Standard Gravel and Surfacing. The Salvation Army, the Council of Social Agencies and the Red Cross were responsible for administering the funds.


A Provincial Royal Commission was formed in 1952 to investigate the cause of the flood and to identify mitigation measures. The Royal Commission’s Report recommended the construction of the Bearspaw Dam and the removal of various impediments on the Bow River immediately east of Calgary. The Bearspaw Dam was completed in 1954.



Flow statistics are not applicable as this flood was caused by an ice jam.