It was a flood like no other causing wide spread damage and havoc throughout the Lake Cowichan area as well as the Robertson River area of Mesachie Lake, Honeymoon Bay and Youbou.
Streets and roads, homes and businesses were flooded; bridges were washed out, roads closed or washed away and a shutdown of some of the area’s lumber mills, occurred.
With continual rain from Jan. 12 to 21, 1968, Cowichan Lake rose an astonishing three feet in one night. It continued to rise another eight feet within the week, finally stopping at a high of over 10 feet above the norm. (Cowichan Leader, Jan. 31, 1968).
The inevitable happened and the waters spilled everywhere. It was a rare and astounding rise of the level of the lake and the results that followed. It occurred because of heavy rain and early snow melt on nearby mountains.
Some locals used their boats to ferry people back and forth over flooded streets. The odd enterprising youngster made a few dollars offering boat rides along South Shore Road or Riverside Drive.
Area pioneer Ken Gillespie could be seen rowing back and forth along the flooded street in front of his flooded house while retrieving chunks of floating firewood.
Others rolled up their pants, donned their gumboots and waded to the store or post office unless it too, was under water. Staff at Honeymoon Bay mill (Western Forest Industries), who for years had recorded daily water levels of the lake, confirmed what the locals already suspected, that indeed it was a record flood.
At first locals expressed great astonishment or open disbelief at what was occurring and with such speed although they were soon convinced otherwise.
The flood conditions, still unsurpassed today, filled the local rivers and surrounding streams far beyond capacity causing flooding along the low lying areas of the Cowichan River.
The low-lying business core and residential areas of Lake Cowichan were most affected although the flooding and damage was not limited to the downtown core.
Many floods have taken place here over the years, prior to and after 1968, with each one being declared by a string of individuals as the worst.
That said, the data available confirms that the benchmark flood of 1968 was the worst. (Town of Lake Cowichan Official Community Plan bylaw and provincial government data).
This writer is often privileged to be the recipient of old photographs and first person written/oral accounts regarding past local events.
This was one of these occasions when first person recordings of the 1968 flood by Trevor Green and an unexpected cache of 1968 flood photographs taken by Marlene Quaife (Davenport) were received, thus forming the base of this story of the 1968 flood.
More on the bench-mark 1968 flood next week.