Father’s Day Flood, 1986

Poem published in Confluence, May, 1997.

They’re cutting hay in the Driftwood watershed. Great thick swathes of hay, rolling out behind the mowers. Not like last year when early heat and almost no rain burned the fields into spindly stalks. It’s been cool this spring, and moist, with just enough heat to warm the soil. And the midsummer light, the lushness of it! As we tilt toward the solstice, the sky keeps opening up. Our old cat stays outside all night, prowling in the barn, playing tag with the pine marten.

Driftwood Creek is, however, is already past its solstice. A couple of weeks ago we had heavy rain and the creek came up into its final muddy freshet. The snow is almost gone up high and on this Father’s Day, the creek was subsiding into its blue-green summer colours.

Things were different in 1986. Lynn had just come home from an emergency medical trip to Vancouver, a trip that turned his thoughts again to nursing. We were glad to have him home to celebrate Father’s Day, but it had been raining for three days straight. Hard, hard rain, pelting down. Coastal rain. And there was a lot of snow in the mountains that year.

We lay in bed, listening to boulders rumbling down the creek. It was an unnerving sound. Our house is a few hundred metres from the creek; our bedroom was on the other side of the house. The phone rang. It was our neighbour down the road, Sonja Lester, who lived just below the bridge that connected us to the outside world. Don’t try to drive to town, she said. The bridge is in our yard.

 

The first bridge on Driftwood Road is ripped out by the high waters of 1986. Sonya Lester says they figured the beaver dams just up the road blew out in a tidal wave of water and debris which picked up the bridge and carried it down to their yard.

 

Lesters’ house – the creek is on the left, the road is to the right, out of the picture.

We scrambled out of bed and high-tailed it over to the parking lot at the fossil beds where a car had spent the night. The bridge to the fossil beds was gone too and we had to shout to be heard. We told them to stay put. The bridge is at a bend in the road. You wouldn’t see that it was gone until you were damn near on it. They’d been camping further up, they said, but the rain and rising water sent them downstream. They’d been worried about the bridges above the Kings’ house, many of them makeshift contraptions. They thought they’d be fine here.

 

Juniper Ridington, (l) Antonia Mills, Michael (l) and Daniel Shervill at the bottom of our driveway where the current bridge crosses to the fossil beds.

We checked with our neighbours up the road. Antonia Mills, whose cabin perched on concrete posts, had seen her winter tires washed away as water ran right under the house. A bit further up Park Road, two families were cut off by the rising water. The Seychuks watched the creek cut a path to within a few metres of their house. A helicopter came to evacuate the Hamelinks. Further up, a section of road was cut away and the bridge just above Wayne and Gida Kings’ – then the last house on the road – washed out. It was several years before it was replaced, before hiking into the Babines from the Driftwood approach didn’t involve nerve-wracking crossings on slippery logs.

 

 

Herb Buchholz describes waking to find water rushing through the dip between their cabin and the driveway out. As well as the rest of his family, he had two little ones to care for – his 2- or 3-year-old granddaughter, Tasha, and a baby coyote one of his boys had rescued from the railway tracks. He strung a rope across the dip so they could safely cross – at one spot it was running pretty fast, he said. He was pleased when his old Ford pickup, half submerged in the water, started up first try and they were able to drive it out. Here his sons Karl (l) and Lyle make the crossing.

 

Sonja Lester writes:
I woke in the morning to the sound of rolling rocks and when I looked out the window we had water flowing everywhere around the house and a bridge parked just upstream. Throughout the day the water built up behind a dam of debris, which included large cottonwood trees, just above the house with the fear that it too would let loose and swipe the house out with it. 
 
We had two neighbours with Cats show up who attempted to remove debris.  One in the creek….with the other chained to it to anchor it. When they left that night they took the keys of the Cat with them so that Richard [Sonya’s husband] wouldn’t get in there without a support system.
 
The kids went off the property in a helicopter and I went out on the blade of a Cat.  They had a command hospitality system set up at the community hall.
She added three notes from her children:
Larry had helped me rototill the day before and said, “Gee, Mom I really wanted to work in the garden today.”  (He had been helping a friend sandbag at Telkwa with no clue that we were in flood).
 
Rich looking out the window at the brown, brown water said, “Mom, we don’t have to move to get a change of scenery do we?”
 
And Jenny standing on the bridge by Eileen Shorter’s watching equipment work to take out debris and talking to Al Fletcher asked, “Mr. Fletcher did you see my house go by yet?”
George and Diane Loset live up Gilbert Road, on the other side of the bridge Jenny was talking about. The debris washing down the creek was battering the bridge’s pilings, George said, and they were trying to catch it to protect the structure. The bridge was eventually replaced as was the bridge just above our place.
Sonja describes two dreams she had:
One of just exactly what would happen – brown, brown water flowing around my house. In the second dream I was looking at my house with a man standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me and my house was on stilts.  He said, “Would you look, your house will be fine.” They had to convince me to leave that day because I knew my house would be fine.

 

 

 

The newspaper referred to the bridge above Lesters as the Foss bridge. Fred Foss owned the property straddling Driftwood Road at its intersection with the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad. He donated the land for the first Driftwood School, the current structure and Glentanna Hall.

 

Our boys were supposed to begin swimming lessons that week … luckily for the folks at this end of the road, the Mounseys had put in a precipitous driveway up and over the canyon wall (to access the house that is now Stefan Schug’s residence), so those with suitable vehicles were able to get in and out.

CN track dangles above the washed out rail bed at Moricetown. (Photo courtesy Interior News)

Further afield, the CN track at Moricetown washed out, the Bulkley at Telkwa was ripping right through Eddy Park where the adjoining Overstall home was getting major sandbagging detail.

In several places, Driftwood Creek carved an entirely new course. The sauna Rick and Karen Careless built in the early 80s found itself stranded on the other side of the creek,  inaccessible. Parts of the road into Silverking became creekbed; in places the old creekbed was reconstituted as road. It wasn’t the first time this had happened – old water courses can be traced all up and down the creek, some still running as ephemeral creeks in spring.

We were all astounded at the creek’s ferocity – feeling the kind of pleasurable excitement that comes with lots of drama and no immediate danger. The creek has approached that level a couple of times in the intervening thirty years, but matched that year. Huge angular boulders, rip rap, were dumped along the stream banks in Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park and along vulnerable housing sites. But the bailey bridges brought in to replace the washouts and the others weakened by the ferocity of the water and the debris it carried are still with us.

Daniel Shervill supervises the installation of a new bridge, the one that’s still in place.

 

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