The steep mountain slopes around the Howe Sound inlet near Vancouver, offer a stunning backdrop to a few small communities that dot the inlet's edges. Yet behind the beauty lies an ever-present risk of debris slides and floods. The evening of October 28, 1921 saw Canada's fourth worst natural disaster. A wall of water, logs and rock crashed down the steep mountainside above the mining town of Britannia Beach. In that instant, lives were lost, hearts were broken, heroes were made and a community was devastated, only to rise from the rubble to be great again.
There were many heroes on that night. Some died trying to sound a warning, some risked life to rescue others but the whole community pulled together to make it through the disastrous flood.
Extra watchmen were posted up at the dams high above Britannia Beach, following some days of very heavy rain. However, they did not know about a dam that had formed between the upper town, Mount Sheer, and the lower town, Britannia Beach. The dam of logs and rocks held long enough for a significant lake to form behind it before letting go and unleashing a wall of water on "the Beach".
Jim Emmott and Bert King were on the bridge at the time and were probably the first to see the water coming. They both screamed warnings trying to be heard over the deafening roar. Bert was thrown clear of the worst of it but Jim was swept into the torrent and his body was later recovered in Howe Sound. William Lonon, a watchman, also lost his life when he ran out into the path of the flood to warn people.
There are also incredible stories of rescue and survival. Yip Bing, jumped onto a floating house and rescued the women still inside. Bert Bacon dove into the raging river to rescue a baby on a piece of wreckage he saw floating by. An exceptionally strong clothes line was about the only thing that kept him from being swept away with the newborn.
As soon as the word got up to the Mount Sheer Townsite, rescue crews were assembled and negotiated the steep path down to "the Beach". Over the coming days there was a tremendous amount of community involvement in housing people who had lost their houses, treating people who were injured and cleaning up the debris that now littered what had been the town. The Assay Office became a temporary morgue until the Union Steamship arrived to transport the bodies to Vancouver.
Like all of the challenges that this community faced, they faced the flood together. Everyone pitched in to clean-up and rebuild the town.
The following 36 people were reported to have been killed or missing during the Britannia Beach flood, at 9.30 pm on Friday October 28, 1921.
Andison, James | Andison, Mrs. J. | Andison, Gregory | Andison, Sydney | Andison, Bobbie | Braidwood, Marion H. | Braidwood, Marion L. | Clark, Robert | Crippen, Annie B. | Crippen, Frances W. | Crippen, Margaret F. | Dion, Leah W. | Dion, Lota M. | Downing, Fred O. | Emmott, James | Farrington, Florence | Farrington, John W. | Farrington, Margaret E. | Farrington, Richard A. | Fiva, Ole | Fiva, Mrs. | Fiva, Lily | Fiva, Margaret | Godin, Helen L. | Godin, Jean A. M. | Hawkins, Sarah A. | Hazegara, Mrs. T. | Lonon, William D. | Lowe, Gordon J. | Luxmore, Alice | Mitchell, A. | Nelson, Carl R. | Nelson, Matilda | Primrose, Margaret | Primrose, Ralph G. | Whithecomb, Horace J.
Archival Imagery of the 1921 Flood Coming Soon
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© 2020 Britannia Mine Museum.
The Museum is a premier, non-profit organization dedicated to presenting mining's relevance today and towards a sustainable future. We would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the sovereign Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation.