A dry spring:  Wistful recollections of wet and wonderful weather

👤Charlynn Toews 🕔Mar 30, 2016

EDMONTON — Farmers across Western Canada will likely see a continuation of dry, mild conditions for the rest of the winter and extending into spring as the lingering effects of El Nino continue to be felt in North America and around the world.

The Western Producer is happy for the farmers, and I should be too, because I eat food: For growers, that means a return to more normal precipitation levels as the year progresses, with better rainfall distribution likely beginning in June and continuing for the rest of the year.

But what about “April showers bring May flowers”? Isn’t spring supposed to be wet?

In April 1966, the famously floody Red River flooded. The CBC archives tell the tale of wet Winnipeg: “In 1966, it all happens again. Heavy snow late in the season. Thick ice on the river. Water downstream with nowhere to go. Predictions come that this flood is going to be even worse than 1950.”

Meanwhile, nearby in the dry, riverless town of Steinbach, I remember that spring as one big glorious puddle. Steinbach means stony brook and there was a creek there when the Mennonites arrived in the 1870s. As flatlanders who diked Holland and drained swampland in Prussia for Catherine the Great, when they saw water—they diverted it. There was a series of culverts in the town where I grew up, tall enough for six-year-old girls to walk through in summer, a small trickle of melt-water meandering through in spring.

But the spring when I was seven years old, when puddle boots were a girl’s best friend, our lame waterway became a roaring river and the park across the street from my house a magical lake.

When it comes to the mighty rivers of northern BC, flooding is not child’s play. Ice-jam floods caused by freeze-up or the break-up of ice have caused much flooding on the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. That same spring, in April 1966, the Highway 16 bridge across the Bulkley River at Smithers was lost during a spring ice jam flood. D. Septer tells us more in Flooding and Landslide Events Northern British Columbia 1820 – 2006.

More dangerous yet was April 1, 1912. Prince Rupert recorded five inches of rain; on April 3, a “blizzard” dumped over seven inches of snow. The Vancouver-bound S.S. Chelohsin was badly damaged during the heavy gale. The ship was driven onto the rocks in the Skeena Slough south of Prince Rupert.

In 1931, Smithers reported a week of warm weather at the end of April. In Walcott, between Telkwa and Houston, children residing on the west side of the Bulkley River were unable to attend school due to the river’s flooded condition. The highway west of Hazelton was dangerous due to large rock and mudslides near Kitwanga. Travellers were advised not to go much beyond Skeena Crossing.

In 1942, the heavy, warm rains that occurred May 25-26 were described as “torrential downpours.” The Skeena and Bulkley rivers reached flood levels. Several small creeks were reported to be on the rampage.

I would have been very proud and pleased to know the word “rampage” that spring when I was at the end of Grade 1, and to use it to describe our little brook.