The snow, finally melted after a long, hard winter, has uncovered an abundance of clean-up challenges for the public works crew, downtown merchants and householders. Litter, miscellaneous debris, broken branches, sand and mud are all being removed from sidewalks, lawns and boulevards. But time-consuming as the work is, it is nothing compared to the cleanup underway in this week’s photograph. It shows the aftermath of the historic Thames River flood in April, 1937.
The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority marked the 75th anniversary of the Flood of ’37 two years ago. Information about this event on the Authority’s website continues to be of great interest. It was the flood of record for the Upper Thames, the most destructive of life and property. Five deaths along the watershed of the two branches of the Thames were blamed on the flood, an estimated 1,100 homes were ruined and property damage ran to $3 million.
The flood, so late in the spring season, was the result of heavy rainfall — nearly six inches in five days. Flooding hit the city of London the hardest but many roads and bridges throughout the watershed were affected. St. Marys was considered to have gotten off relatively lightly but there was significant damage to homes and businesses. Water rose from basements onto the main floors of many buildings along Queen, Water and Thomas Streets.
Since this column began, it has presented a flood photograph every March or April. There are two reasons for this. First of all, since its purpose is to describe events or people of local historic interest, it seems important to remember these significant floods. Secondly, the rising water produced some wonderful photographs, often showing our community from rarely-seen vantage points. Studying these pictures, we can look past the water in the streets and focus on the buildings — some still in place, others changed or gone altogether.
In this week’s photograph, the man on the right is trying to clear silt from the entrance to the old fire hall on Water Street. Several trucks on the still-wet street are hauling the muddy mess away. Central to the photograph, the familiar trusses of the Water Street Bridge rise above Trout Creek.
This bridge, in fact, was well designed to withstand flooding. Its abutments lifted the deck above high water although sometimes the approaches at both ends were flooded. The bridge still stands well above the creek. The flood wall along the south bank now rises as high as the south abutment and offers much greater protection than in 1937 to the buildings along Water Street South. This truss bridge crosses the creek without piers and so ice chunks and floating debris pass easily under it without damaging floodwater backup.