High water brings back memories for Langley woman

Marge Shiell’s family settled in Glen Valley and made it through two major floods.

With water rising, some longtime Langley residents recall the last major flood that struck along the Fraser River.

Though there has been high water many times over the years, the 1948 flood was the biggest in the last century.

Marge Shiell remembers the water rising and almost swallowing her family’s Glen Valley home.

It was the second major flood for her family.

Her grandfather, John Frederick McLellan, settled land in Glen Valley, just on the Matsqui side of what is now the Langley-Abbotsford border, in the 1880s.

The family established a dairy farm, and during the flood of 1894, her grandmother was giving birth in the upstairs of the family home. The next oldest boy, a toddler, was tethered to the bed to make sure he didn’t go outside and get swept away in the water.

By 1948, the family was living on 84th Avenue, inside of the dike system that still protects most of the low-lying land in Glen Valley, around Fort Langley, and in Derby Reach.

In May of 1948, the river began rising rapidly.

Shiell’s father Dan McLellan was out a lot, involved with the local diking association, as they attempted to shore up the berms that protected the farms.

“It was raining very hard,” Shiell said.

On May 28, the dikes protecting Glen Valley broke and the lowlands began to flood.

The decision was made to evacuate the local farms. Trucks were brought in to haul out the cattle, but the first truck heading up the steep bluff on Jackman Road Hill – the one with the McLellan cattle – stalled or got stuck in the rough roads.

That held up the entire convoy of the farmers, all trying to get their cattle to higher ground.

“Not ready for those big trucks,” Shiell said of the gravel roads of the day.

Just 13 at the time, Shiell and her two younger brothers were offloaded and sent to stay with an uncle and aunt in what was then called East Langley, now considered a part of Glen Valley. She never saw the end of the epic traffic jam on Jackman Road, though the farmers did eventually get the trucks moving again.

Shiell wouldn’t return to see her home until August.

“We were very fortunate,” she said.

The McLellan home was not flooded out. Pictures the family took shows the water lapping just few inches below the front step, with water surrounding the house in every direction.

Other homes were not so fortunate. A former schoolhouse was submerged to the upper windows, and other farming families lost most of their possessions.

It took ages for the land to dry out.

“The land was all kind of slimy and mushy,” Shiell remembered.

When Shiell sees reports of the river rising again, she thinks about the people living close to the water.

“You feel very fortunate that we’re not there, and you feel for those people,” she said.

 

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