Clear cut lands resulted in ‘spectacular’ floods for villagers

 In Opinion

Spectacular is the best word to describe the floods in and around Creemore in the early days of the 20th Century. In those days no one was blaming global warming but the cause of the devastating rush of water was linked to an ecological problem.
When the early settlers arrived on the land it was a primeval forest. The first thing they did was cut down trees to make dwellings and then to clear the land for farming. Another incentive was selling logs for lumber, rails, posts and anything that could be made from wood. As a result the whole area around Creemore was clear cut. When the hot sun melted the snow in March or in the summer when fierce electric rain storms hit, there were no trees to shade the hillsides or soften the blows of the raindrops. The spongy forest floor was gone and many of the farm fields were bare of grass.
The Creemore Star described the scene in March 1904, “The thaw which set in on Thursday last raised the water to an unusual height and on Friday evening it had overflowed the banks on the north side of Caroline Street and what that did not turn south to the river again at the school house continued on to St. Luke’s, then crossed through a garden and after flooding Dr. Butcher’s stable got out to Elizabeth Street and on to the river. W.A. May’s cellar was filled to the brim as was that of the Trew House.”
During another spring (1916), rain, in addition to the melting snow caused the creek coming down Ten Hill to overflow. Down Mill Street it rushed, detouring from house to house filling cellars. The ice in the river heaved up jamming at the Caroline Street bridge. Some men were able to move it only to have it jam at the Mill Street bridge which was still there in 1916. Water covered the lower end of the village and flooded the main floor of William Hannah’s house. Finally the jam was relieved and the water receded. Meanwhile the water rushing down the mill race on the south side of the river damaged the dam at the grist mill.
At the same time an amusing incident happened at the north end of town. Howard Steggal had Mrs. John Mackay and Mrs. Chas. Day out in a buggy viewing the sites of the flood, and where the Ten Hill road meets the east-west road they drove into the ditch where the bridge had been washed away. There they sat with the water almost flowing across the buggy floor. Jack Carrol came along with his rig and rescued the ladies, then mounted the horse and brought the ill fated conveyance to dry land.
Not only were there spring floods but also the floods following heavy rain in the summer. One such episode occurred on a Sunday morning. “During the hour of divine service a cloud burst opened and for a time it looked like everything in its path would be swept away. The rain simply poured down in torrents and when church was dismissed a river of considerable magnitude was flowing down Mill Street. Men disrobed their feet and rolled up their pants and carried children home, while ladies had to wait until rigs came to convey them through the flood. Much damage was done to crops and fences, the greatest sufferer being W.T. Patullo (County Road 9) who had most of his crop ruined, rails and logs scattered through his orchard, his barn partly undermined, his roadway washed out and huge boulders rolled in. His machinery was washed out of his barn and badly damaged.”
JB Doner saw his wagon starting off and rushed out and chained it to a fence post. The floor of his residence was covered to the depth of several inches, leaving carpets a horrid mess.
Some boys were bathing in the river back of the woollen mill and one of them got caught in the current and was carried down to the Caroline Street Bridge before getting out.
The above descriptions are but a snapshot of the many floods that came year after year scattering devastation everywhere. Gradually grass and trees took over the hillsides. The severe floods have gone but we have to whisper that we do miss the excitement.

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to T he Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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