Before anyone lived in Six-Mile, the Duhamel Creek did not have an actual creek bed. The water flowed freely down on flat surfaces until it reached the lake. Many oldtimers in the area have spring run-off flood memories and you can read about them in the article (scroll down) “Duhamel Creek Floods . . .Again, by Melodie Rae Storey.
In the late 1940’s Elizabeth Healey leased her farm on Heddle Road, as she was getting older, and rented a house down below on the fan. No sooner did she get moved in than her newly planted yard became a wash out of river rock during the first spring run-off and she promptly moved back up the hill.
In 1956 the creek breached its banks taking out two bridges.
On June 3rd 1968 the creek once again breached its banks due to heavy rains and fast snow pack melt.
In the spring of 1972 the residents were once again sandbagging to protect their homes and the local elementary school was closed for a couple of days due to the danger the high water in the creek.
Extensive work took place dredging the creek, stabilizing the banks with heavy rocks and installing cribbing at a creek junction just above hwy 3a. and since the 1970s (30-40 years) residents have lived in relative safety from flooding. (click here for current Duhamel Watershed news)
Duhamel Creek Floods….Again
by Melodie Rae Storey
A history of Six-Mile would not be complete without mentioning the tumultuous relationship between Duhamel Creek and those who lived around it. The creek no longer poses much of a threat, but in earlier days, it would regularly flood, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Indeed, the creek played a much bigger role in the daily lives of earlier residents than it does today, due to the area’s informal development. Although the causes of the floods were natural, development of properties for single seasons only and a lack of government initiative made the creek all the more intrusive to the lives of the Six-Mile pioneers.
The causes of the floods were varied, but common enough. Heavy rainfall was often the culprit, as it was on June 3rd, 1968 when locals worked hard to save the two bridges from washing out after the creek tripled in size. Other times, a stretch of unusually hot weather in Spring would melt the snowpack a little too quickly, causing the creek to swell, as it did dramatically in May of 1956 (when the bridges actually were washed out) and June of 1972. Or it could be as simple as a fallen log blocking the creek bed, forcing the water outside the banks. In the winter, the water would freeze layer upon layer so that eventually the water would flow on top of the rising ice, spilling over the banks. Basic mother nature stuff.
However, the prosaic environmental events, which still occur today, were exacerbated by Six-Mile’s haphazard early development. Because the inhabitation of Six-Mile began with a slow building of summer cabins, the land was not systematically developed for year round use, which made the floods worse than they had to be. For example, before anyone lived in Six-Mile, the Duhamel Creek did not have an actual creek bed. The water flowed freely down on flat surfaces until it reached the lake. If there would have been intentional, large-scale settlement, the inhabitants or the government would have dug out a bed before any building happened. As it was, the early residents of Six-Mile dug out what is now Duhamel Creek, slowly and incrementally, over the years. In the days where the bed was shallower, the creek overflowed much more readily.
Moreover, because the early Six-Mile houses were merely summer cabins, meant for short stays, there was an unhealthy dependence on the creek. Instead of tapping deep wells like current residents do, the early settlers of Six-Mile relied on Duhamel creek for their water using a rudimentary system. When floods occurred, daily life was greatly affected. As permanent residents settled, the summer cabins slowly became winterized and wells were dug, allowing for independence from the creek’s fluctuations.
Because Six-Mile only consisted of a small collection of summer cabins, it seemingly did not warrant government intervention during flood season, aggravating the floods effects. In some of the cases, an ounce of prevention would have been a pound of cure. A creek bed filling up with debris, for instance, would have been easily caught and fixed by regular overseers. Unfortunately, even as Six-Mile increasingly became a permanent settlement, the laissez faire stance of the government continued, despite protest and repeated requests for assistance. The government maintained that they could only commit to the care of the highway and bridge system; the rest of Six-Mile was out of their jurisdiction. The frustration of this situation is still deeply felt by many of the surviving pioneers.
Over the years, the Six-Mile community took more and more initiative in their volunteer efforts, although this was not always foolproof. The Westarm Ratepayers Association formed a Waterworks Committee, a group of volunteer men who regularly kept an eye on the water table. At a June 8th, 1968, meeting of the Westarm Ratepayers Association, there was a frustrated discussion on dredging. After the first flood, local residents dredged the creek during low water for three consecutive years until it had to be discontinued due to problems with water rights. Another incident shows the limitations of the committee. One winter evening when Mary Carne found the tap water coming out slowly in her kitchen, she asked a neighbor man to make sure the water box up the creek wasn’t iced over. Unfortunately, the man felt he had to first have supper and read the paper. In that short time, the water box did indeed ice over and all of Six-Mile did not have water for over a week. Thankfully, this occurred in the middle of winter so they could melt snow for their household needs. Mary Carne had a toddler and a teething baby at the time and she remembers boiling water for washing diapers. The stove would certainly melt the snow but it did nothing for the floating bits of cedar branches! The volunteer work was also dangerous. Madeline Prive remembers one winter when the creek froze, Nick Dozenburger came with his excavator to break up the ice. The first punch of the bucket through the ice brought a torrent of water that just about swept him, along with the excavator, away.
The floods impacted Six-Mile life differently. Unsurprisingly, the floods brought stress and grief to the adults. The unpredictability and severity of damage was a part of living in Six-Mile in those early days. One year, Max and Mary Carne came home from a New Year’s party just after midnight to find their basement completely flooded. The Malahoffs, Prives, and Morrisons all regularly dealt with basements filled with water. Lawns and gardens became slime and mud pits. Bridges washed out; roads became impassable. The road to A.I. Collison became an impromptu creek bed, as water flowed down it swiftly, sweeping away anything in its path. Debra Storey, who was a child at the time of the floods, recalled that standing by the engorged Duhamel was the first time she saw a grown woman cry. It is no wonder.
Children remember the fun and excitement that the floods brought. A.I Collison Elementary would close since they were situated so close to the creek. The kids enjoyed the reprieve from school and ordinary daily routines. Deb Storey remembers how much fun they had sandbagging and hanging out with the adults. Her sister, Jean Carne, loved the feeling of the feeling of the whole neighborhood coming together and working towards a shared goal. A common memory to all who were interviewed was how swiftly the water flowed and the thunderous sound of the rocks as the water tumbled them around. Indeed, the sound of the rocks rolling was so loud, it could be heard inside a house, several houses away. When the residents heard the deep rumble in the middle of the night, they knew they would be sandbagging in the morning.
The negative effects of the floods are numerous and obvious, but there was also a positive impact on Six-Mile life that should not be overlooked. Six-Mile was a young community and events like the floods helped foster community among one another. Everyone knew everyone else and all helped to look after each other’s houses, gardens and animals. Mary Carne says at one point, she had the keys to five houses! The floods and lack of government help brought the community together as a whole, self-reliant entity, something which is arguably missing from the Six-Mile community now. The positive and negative impact can certainly be debated, but there is no doubt that the floods were a dramatic and well-remembered part of Six-Mile’s history.
Cayo, Don. “Creeks Run Wild.” Nelson Daily News (Nelson, BC), June 3, 1968.
Carne, Jean. Interview by Melodie Storey, May 6, 2014.
Carne, Mary. Interview by Melodie Storey, March 26, 2014.
“Duhamel Creek at Six-Mile Threatens Homes.” Nelson Daily News (Nelson, BC), June 1, 1972.
Minister of Highways British Columbia, letter to Mr. E. T. Bodard. July 4, 1968.
Prive, Madeline. Interview by Melodie Storey, June 11, 2014.
“Road Caves in at Duhamel Creek Bridge.” Nelson Daily News (Nelson, BC), May 17, 1971.
“School is Out.” Nelson Daily News (Nelson, BC), June 4, 1968.
Storey, Deb. Interview by Melodie Storey, June 2, 2014.
Westarm Ratepayers Association. Meeting minutes. June 8, 1968.
Memories . . .
In 1956 I was sandbagging with neighbours and the bridge washed-out leaving my wife Audrey with our one year old son David in our house just a few hundred yards on the other side of the creek. Fred Heddle (2014)