The flood of 2013 was a wake-up call for Bragg Creek, Rocky View County and the Government of Alberta. As long as people have lived on opposite sides of the Elbow River in Bragg Creek floods have been a big problem. During the 2013 flood the worst effects were on infrastructure; roads, bridges and buildings.
The governments are considering building the McLean Creek Dry Dam to mitigate the effects of flooding in Bragg Creek and further downstream. In my view we shouldn’t mess with nature, we should work with it. In very simple terms we shouldn’t build on a flood plain. But, most of the hamlet is on the flood plain of the Elbow River so it’s not that simple. What to do? When the next big one hits, will a dam do the trick?
Part of the problem is how do we get across the river? The Balsam Ave. bridge was closed for a time during both the 2005 and 2013 floods. I think we’ve had 5 bridges over the Elbow in Bragg Creek since the first one was built in 1913. Floods have taken a toll over the years. A woman died due to pneumonia contracted in the flood of 1932. Now is a great time to look back as we plan ahead.
Those living and working on the White and Balsam Ave. side of the river don't have to cross the river to evacuate during and emergency, but people in Wintergreen and West Bragg Creek need a second access road in and out so we don’t have to rely on a single bridge during an emergency.
This photo album deals with both – current and historical images of flooding and bridges in Bragg Creek.
The first bridge
I’m not sure I’d want to cross the river on this bridge. It’s a pole bridge that spanned the Elbow near where the Trading Post Store is located now. It was built in 1913 and didn’t last long; a couple of years. The flood that destroyed it opened a new channel in the river. They built a new pole bridge less than a kilometre upstream that had two spans, one each to cross the two channels. They were both lost during a flood in 1916.
1st Store & Government Bridge
Built about 1916 this was the first engineered bridge built with rock filled piers on either end, with one in the middle. It is just upstream from where the Trading Post store is now. It was repaired several times, but finally collapsed in the flood of 1932.
The first steel bridge
After the 1932 flood engineers decided to build a steel bridge about a kilometre downstream of the original bridges where the shoreline was bedrock. That bridge was about 150 metres down from where the current bridge stands. This photo was taken during the 1950s. This bridge stood until the current concrete and steel bridge was built in 1984.
Balsam Ave. Bridge during the flood of 2005
At the time this was considered to be the “flood of the Century” as the volume of water was much greater than normal floods. There were two floods that year one on June 7 to 9 and another on June 17. It was bad, but the water didn’t flow down White Ave. and wreck buildings and roads as it did in 2013.
Bridge closed during the 2005 flood
The bridge was only closed for a few hours, but as you can see a lot of people rely on the bridge to get in and out of West Bragg Creek and Wintergreen. I think it may be as many as 1,500 people. And, it’s not only people. Horses and other livestock need to be fed.
Bridge closed again during the flood of 2013
During this flood the bridge was closed for about 2 1/2 days. Communications were lost, people weren’t able to get home or out. The odd thing about this photo is that the bridge is dry, the river is raging and the hamlet is inundated. Just upstream from the bridge about an acre of land, trees and buildings were washed away. One of the buildings floated downstream and crashed into the bridge. That’s why it was closed; they had to verify its structural integrity.
Balsam Ave. Bridge during the flood of 2013
That’s one raging torrent of water! It appears to be about 2 metres higher than normal. Floods usually occur in early June, a combination of warm weather melting the snowpack in the mountains and seasonal heavy rain. This one occurred June 20 when much of the snowpack had melted and the rainfall wasn’t all that heavy in Bragg Creek. The flood waters originated far upstream due to a pocket of extremely heavy rain falling on the headwaters of the Elbow River.
This is pretty graphic evidence of the power of the 2013 flood. As Freda Purmal says in the “Our Foothills” history of Bragg Creek, “Anyone who has ever witnessed a mountain river in flood will always remember the fascination and horror of nature on the rampage and man’s puny efforts to control such terrific forces of nature”. The flood all but destroyed the Trading Post, located centre, top in this image. The Teghtmeyers rebuilt and reopened the store for Christmas 1914.
Highway 66 Bridge in Kananaskis
It’s hard to imagine but the shore of the river used to reach the end of the bridge and the mangled steel guardrail hanging off it. Alberta transport built a temporary span for the summer of 2013 and then extended this bridge to connect to the new shoreline. It reopened in the fall of 2013.
West Bragg Creek Hostel Road Bridge
This bridge used to span Bragg Creek in Kananaskis when a road was built to support a Youth Hostel in the late 1970s. The hostel burned down a couple years after it opened and the road was abandoned. Only foot traffic crossed it. With each spring flood the bridge started to collapse and the abutment eroded. They finally removed it in 2005 after the flood.
Cable Rescue bucket
I’m not sure when it was built or if it’s ever been used but this box rolls along a cable that spans the river. It is located on municipal land along White Ave. opposite Park Place. The shed on the right is the stream flow monitoring station.