Thunder Bay Flooding – A historical perspective

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Image from the Thunder Bay Museum

THUNDER BAY – Because the city of Fort William, now Thunder Bay south, was built on the old deltas of the Kaministiquia and Neebing rivers, the area has long been susceptible to floods. An ice jam in the 1880s backed up the Kam and flooded the entire town; the Rosslyn Bridge was carried all the way downstream to McTavish Street where it piled up on the riverbank.

One of the biggest floods on record occurred in 1893 due to a major spring run off and ice in the river. Another flood in 1897 washed out several bridges. North Street flooded in 1908, leading to complaints that the city’s government should do something.

Lest anyone think the north end of the city was immune, a 1908 flood washed away a bridge and a train while 1911 saw the Current River overflow its banks. As this image dating from 1912 attests, constant flooding was common each spring in the lower-lying areas of the city.

The Neebing River overflowed in a major way in the spring of 1938 and a storm created a flood in 1941 taking out many homes. Larger diameter sewer pipes were installed in some areas in 1949 in an attempt to minimize the effects of storms but in the spring of 1950 the Neebing again flooded out many homes.

By 1953 a women’s Neebing River Flood Control Committee was in place and the following year the Neebing Valley Conservation Authority was formed (it later expanded into the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority) and talk of building a flood-way became a political issue.

However, though planning had commenced in the early 1970s, the flood-way wasn’t completed until 1984. In the meantime, major storms in 1968, 1971 and 1977 caused considerable damage. One effect of the construction of the flood-way was that it allowed the Intercity area to become a major business hub.

It had removed the threat of major flooding. However, our recent storm has shown that no amount of planning and construction can eliminate the entirely the deleterious effects of storms.

Thunder Bay Museum

A Moment with the Museum:
Text by Tory Tronrud, Thunder Bay Museum
Photo courtesy of the Thunder Bay Museum