Mosquitoes figure prominently when Gordon Mackie thinks back to 1948.
Mackie, a former mayor of Sicamous, will be 90 in July. He remembers well the flooding 70 years ago.
Shuswap Lake’s highest level on record over the past 100 years or so was in 1948 at 349.82 metres. A close second was 1972, with 349.69 metres. Previous to that, 1894 set flood records.
“We had mosquitoes like you wouldn’t believe. You couldn’t walk around anywhere,” Mackie says of 1948, explaining that people would put light oil on the water to try and curb the invasion. “That worked pretty good in those days. Most larvae couldn’t breathe really well through the oil. But there were miles of sloughs in the valley.”
DDT was also sprayed generously from an old army smoke machine, with no awareness at that time of its dangerous environmental effects.
To avoid the annoying insects, when residents ventured outside they would wrap newspaper, held in place with rubber bands, around their arms under their clothes.
“It would be hotter than a fire cracker,” he recalls. “It was a tough go. We didn’t have all the tools you do now.”
Mackie was living in Sicamous and his dad ran a tugboat.
“My dad took the tugboat to Salmon Arm… He was able to come right in and tie up at at the CPR fence.”
Salmon Arm seemed to be as badly flooded as Sicamous, he says, with the Salmon River stretching far and wide. Travelling the lake could be hazardous, “with debris coming down – driftwood and dead cows and everything else.”
Train travel was also affected. Mackie says everyone travelled by passenger train in those days, which went from Sicamous to Kelowna every day but Sunday. One day the water had risen so high that the train crew was afraid it would put out the firebox that created the steam power. As a result the train was shut down for a couple of weeks.
During the flooding, people would help each other out or fend for themselves, with little or no help from the government. Flood relief in 1948 came in the form of a metal box, about 16 inches long and 10 inches wide.
“It had first aid stuff in it… It didn’t arrive until everything had dried up.”
One of the bad things was the effect of the flood on fruit trees in low-lying areas, which would eventually die. Mackie remembers the garden at his family’s home.
“You could walk out with hip waders and you could see strawberry plants with strawberries on them, and fish swimming.”
Water was in the basement of their house for about two or three weeks, but dried up completely by the end of July.
Because people used septic systems which flooded, temporary community “biffies” were set up on high ground.
Mackie’s grandparents lived right on the channel, so they had to move out and stay at his home. A photo of Mackie was taken pushing his grandmother in a wheelbarrow.
“It was the handiest at that particular time. First of all I thought she could just climb on my back, but then I thought, that’s not very good, she’s an older lady.”
So he asked her if she could climb into the wheelbarrow.
“So we managed to get her in the wheelbarrow with her suitcase, and booked her out of there. I thought she was real old – late 60s maybe,” he laughs.
Mackie said he thinks the main reason for the 1948 flood was a very cool, slow spring, which warmed up in mid-May and combined with hard rain. He isn’t predicting a 1948-style flood this year.
“Floods, they were just a natural occurrence, some years worse than others. ‘48 turned out to be a bad one, and ‘72 seemed a little worse,” he says, suggesting it might be because there weren’t as many buildings in 1948.
“My guess, and this is just a guess, I suspect we’re within a week of peaking on Shuswap Lake. It might get up to where it was in 2012 (349.44), but I don’t think it will make that much. That’s just my guess. Unless it should all of a sudden turn around and rain like crazy, then all bets are off.”
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