Calgary’s Most Damaging Flood

June 20, 2013

Flooded residential street.
All of the following photos are supplied by the City of Calgary

The most destructive flood in the history of the province began on June 20, 2013 and affected areas along the Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Sheep, Little Bow, and South Saskatchewan rivers.

A total of 32 local states of emergency were declared and 28 emergency operations centres were activated as water levels rose and numerous communities were placed under evacuation orders.

We will live with this forever, says Premier Alison Redford. Calgary Herald, June 24, 2013


Calgary had a population of 1.14 million with over 460,000 dwellings in approximately 175 communities.


The City declared a state of emergency on June 20 as the potential extent of the flooding was recognized. It was lifted July 4 as the waters receded. During the course of the flooding, the City of Calgary’s 311 service request line received over 100,000 calls. The Canadian Army was called in to provide assistance and helped to secure the Enmax power substation. Eight reception centres were set up in schools and community buildings to provide assistance to those displaced by the flood.

With many families evacuated to shelters and hotels and thus unable to take their pets with them, the Calgary Humane Society offered a refuge for animals displaced by the flood. On June 30, with the worst of the flooding over, 26 dogs, 39 cats and two pigs were reunited with their humans.


In terms of insurable damages with costs estimated at $1.7 billion, this was the costliest disaster in Canadian history. One hundred and ten thousand people were displaced from twenty-six communities. While none of the city’s major bridges were damaged (with the exception of the Bonnybrook rail bridge) twenty of them were closed. The Bonnybrook rail bridge was undermined and this caused a train derailment on June 27. All of Calgary’s schools, in both boards, were closed. As a result, the year-end diploma examinations were cancelled. Calgary’s downtown, the business heart of the city, was essentially closed; all routes into the core were flooded and transit service was suspended. Power was shut off to all evacuated areas, including the downtown. Power would not be completely restored to the core until June 28. The transit system took a hit as the waters damaged C-Train tracks in the Erlton area, flooded tunnels and undermined roads. Calgarians were asked to refrain from all unnecessary travel.

Microfilm in library basement Microfilm readers in the basement of the Central Library. (Credit: Calgary Public Library)

Damaged library books Damaged books in the Central Library basement. (Credit: Calgary Public Library)


Come hell or high water

Over 100 metres of LRT track had to be replaced on the south line in order to restore C-Train service. This was done within a week of the lifting of the state of emergency. Repairs to the city’s road network were also mostly completed within a week. Though the rodeo grounds and grandstand were severely damaged, the Stampede went ahead as planned, using the “Come hell or high water” slogan. Calgarians took this as their rallying cry. The city pulled together and volunteers, over 2300 of them, pitched in to help clean up neighbourhoods and public areas. Staff of the water treatment plant managed to keep the drinking water clean and safe throughout the emergency and in spite of the flooding of the Bonnybrook treatment plant. The Scotiabank Saddledome, which had been filled with water up to the tenth row of seats, reopened on September 11 for an Eagles concert.


As a result of the flooding, a decision was made by the Provincial Government to revisit the flood plain maps which are now over 30 years old. They have also commissioned a flood mitigation study to seek ways to prevent future damage in case of similar occurrences. Funds were made available to homeowners who suffered flood-related losses, but assistance for future flood damages will be contingent on the installation of flood mitigation measures.


Social media was the preferred means of communication during this event. The City of Calgary and the Mayor took to Twitter to keep the population apprised of events as they happened. This was especially important as power was out to a large portion of the downtown and residents displaced by the floods often had no other means of accessing information. The Calgary Police Service Twitter account shut down temporarily as a result of an unprecedented number of tweets. The City of Calgary Emergency Operations Centre held daily news conferences to keep residents informed of developments while the state of emergency was in effect. In order to keep citizens up-to-date on programs and other flood related information, the city launched a flood recovery website.

For more information about the flood of 2013, visit


This flood was the second largest since 1883 in terms of water flow. Flow in the Bow River peaked at 2,400 cubic metres per second, which is eight times its normal. The Elbow peaked at 1240 cubic metres per second, which is twelve times its normal rate. The outflow below the Glenmore Dam was seven times normal, at 700 cubic metres per second.

Calgary's Flood Click to view PDF (Credit: City of Calgary)