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Flood from 45 years ago still impacts City of Moose Jaw

A look back at the flood of 1974

Forty-five years ago Moose Jaw residents eagerly awaited a weather forecast ending frosty days.

They were treated to three days of July-type sun that turned knee deep snow in the fields to slush with nowhere to go. Compounding the heavy run-off were chunks of ice blocking the waterways.

Three days of hot sun became a nightmarish flood that still has impacts to this day.

Flooding created havoc with roads, power and telephone lines in the district but Moose Jaw took the brunt. Three waterways converged with roiling waters in the heart of Moose Jaw.

On Monday, April 15, residents were warned of impending floods by Thursday. Volunteers, city crews and the EMO filled 60,000 sandbags, half the eventual number.

The Moose Jaw River crest was expected to reach 8,500 cubic feet per second flow, at peak, almost three times the channel capacity.

By Thursday that week, the flood peak arrived at four times the river channel capacity. Ice chunks swept away the traffic bridge connecting Churchill Park and River Park. It was later replaced with a pedestrian bridge.

The bridge connecting River Park with the Cabin was damaged so badly it needed replacing.

Water creeping up Fairford, River, High and Manitoba Streets caught people unawares.

Firefighters and volunteers evacuated 1,500 people from 48 homes.  One of the rescuers lost his canoe paddle and substituted with a hockey stick.

Damage wasn’t restricted to the park area. From the north, a one-quarter mile wide Spring Creek flowed over Main Street North and almost over the deep Crescent Park serpentine banks.

From the west, Thunder Creek inundated the rail yards meeting river  water at Plaxton Lake. CP Rail detoured trains around Moose Jaw. One determined South Hill man went to work downtown by rowing across the rail yards.

“We’ve got water in every direction,” City Commissioner Gordon Botting told reporters. “Everything has let loose and water is pouring in from Thunder and Spring Creeks.”

The west side of Moose Jaw was flooded right to Mosaic Place's east property line with rowers boating down Fairford Street. Manitoba Street was flooded in front of today’s liquor store.

Damage was estimated at $9 million with 45 insurance adjustors immediately working on files. 

During the weekend, media reports of a possible 25-foot high wave frightened residents. The wave never materialized.

When the one-in-500-year flood was over, city council rezoned large parts of the city as flood zones with no new building allowed. Flood fringe zone construction projects face restrictions.

The city established a voluntary home buyout policy in Churchill Park and River Park, spending $2 million on homes over 10 years. The policy wasn’t revoked until a few years ago when no buyers volunteered property.

To prevent a recurrence of this disaster, the city built an earthen berm on the west side and a dam across Spring Creek. 

Dredging was undertaken on the silted up Plaxton Lake but ceased when mercury contamination was found in the lake bottom.

Ron Walter can be reached at

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