“FLOODING OF THE MURRAY RIVER TAKES EIGHT LIVES” — This was the headline of the local paper on March 25th, 1939. The sudden flooding of the Murray River at East Pine during the early morning hours swept away the home of Mr. Wellington M. Warren, carrying eight persons to their deaths in the raging water and crushing ice.
Those who lost their lives were Mr. & Mrs. Warren and their three daughters, Jean, Pearl and Ada aged twelve, ten, and six years. The three children of Mr. & Mrs. Al Lamont — Don aged three, Raymond two and Earnest seven months — were also victims of the disaster.
The flood was caused by some very warm weather and a three-day rain at the headwaters of the Murray. The ice jam first formed about six miles up the river. The Murray joins the Pine almost at right angles. When the ice jam let go, thousands of tons of ice, water, and debris swept down the Murray, pushing right across to the opposite bank of the Pine River, thus blocking both rivers. The water then backed up quickly sweeping ice, water and debris over the low-lying areas. The Warren home was on the South side of the Murray east of the Pine River and directly in the path of the flood.
Ethel Lamont relates, “We were awakened by water pouring into the house and the thumping of cakes of ice against the walls outside”. Ethel and her husband grabbed the baby and forced the door open in an attempt to escape. They fought their way out and were swept onto an ice bridge formed by blocks of ice drifting against a rail fence. They made some progress until the rails broke sweeping them drowning and exhausted into the willows, where they lost the baby. Mr. Lamont relates that the baby was torn out of their grasp, and that they both went under many times but with the help of willows finally crawled to higher ground, making their way to the cabin of Frank Parr, a brother-in-law.
Bert Warren, a young man in his early twenties, had crossed the ice about midnight. He had been visiting across the river and all was quiet at that time. His sleigh dogs were raising an unusual ruckus and he decided to go home, check his dogs and go to bed. He left the house through a window, when awakened by the flood. Making an attempt to swim he was swept with the flood against some tree. He thinks the house was demolished within seconds of his and the Lamonts leaving. His father and mother and sister Edith were swept against the same clump of trees. Bert Warren attempted to swim for help but was forced back so many times he almost gave up. Finally he was able to grasp a submerged telephone wire and pull himself along to safety.
The home of William Roseneau, Sr. was on higher ground. The snapping of the same telephone wire, which was attached to their cabin, awoke the Roseneaus. There was water between the house and their barn and they knew the Warrens were in trouble. Jack Rosenau and his brother Babe — young men in their early twenties — took lanterns and ropes and ran to help. They found Frank Parr, a brother-in-law of the Warrens, attempting to get Bert to safe ground. After helping the battered and exhausted Bert to the Parr cabin, and learning Edith and Mr. & Mrs. Warren were in the same clump of trees, they ran back to try to save them. Edith had climbed into a tree. Mr. Warren was clinging to the trunk with Mrs. Warren at his feet. It was now faintly daylight. Frank tied the ropes around his middle and started on the perilous journey across the ice floe, with Babe and Jack holding anchor ropes. Reaching the tree he saw the body of Mrs. Warren wedged under some ice and Mr. Warren in a delirious state. He got Edith who had been in her nightclothes for four hours and was almost dead of exposure, on his back, twice they were almost lost but Jack and his brother Babe hauled them to safety.
Running for more rope and help to get Mr. Warren, they found on returning that the ice had shifted and they had been swept away. They noted the baby’s cradle standing intact on an ice floe.
This had a profound effect on Jack Roseneau. He was heartbroken. Ten days or so after the disaster, the told his brother about a vivid dream he had had and said, “I know right where we’ll find the body of Mr. Warren!” His brother went with him and they found the body exactly where Jack had dreamed it would be. The bodies of Mr. & Mrs. Warren and Don, the infant son of the Lamonts, were the only ones recovered.
Other families suffered in the flood, but no other lives were lost. Mr. Boshier, school teacher from the coast, and his wife and 8 year old Bennie Smith occupied a house on the west side of the Murray River. Jack Smith was away and had left his son with the couple for a week. Awakened by the rattling of the ice around the house, Mr. Boshier awakened the others and they made their way towards the barn on higher ground. They were swept from their feet, frozen and blinded by muddy water, more than once. They climbed into the loft and crouched in the hay for six hours, watching the water rise to within a foot of the loft floor. They were unable to free the horses and cows in the barn as the water was too high when they reached it and they had to watch the animals drown.
The Milo Durney family who lived near by escaped to the roof of their house, nearly freezing in their night attire. At daylight the Boshiers and Benny Smith crossed the ice floe and joined the Durneys. With the aid of timbers from the roof, they crossed to the west hillside and were able to build a life-saving campfire.
At four in the afternoon they heard three rifle shots and saw Oscar Quesnel, local game warden, and Jack Watt, a policeman, making their way toward them. Roping themselves together alpine fashion they made their way to safety, Oscar Quesnel leading and Jack Watt in the rear. They were met by Frank Madden with a team and sleigh and taken to warmth and safety in his home.
The Orford and Madden families who lived on the north side of the Pine were flooded and lost their stock, but no lives were lost. Alice Madden Linsley relates, “We were awakened by the water coming into the cabin. By the time we were dressed the water was up to our hips.” Mrs. Madden was not well so they stood her on a dresser, hoping to keep her dry. Mr. Madden and his sons Leonard, Al, and Roy rushed to the barn hoping to save the stock, leaving Alice in the house with her mother. Alice says that it was too late as the water was above the barn door. Her father, in a desperate attempt to save his horses, climbed into the loft and held their noses above water by their halters until they drowned. Then the family moved to higher ground into a spruce grove and attempted to light a fire to keep from freezing.
Alice remembers the shock of returning to their home and seeing beds and food ruined and covered with mud and debris. She remembers seeing dried apples floating around the cabin floor, swollen and dirty. Dried apples were a staple food used in those pre-refrigerator days. She remembers also the many acts of kindness to the families, and of a quilt sent by a church group, which her brother still cherishes.
Bill Roseneau also tells of crossing the river at one a.m. on foot. Nothing seemed amiss then. He walked home and went to bed, to be awakened scarcely an hour later.
The ice reached a height of forty feet. It was above the level of the cable used on the passenger basket crossing the Murray. It held for several days before finally going out on April the 5th.
The population of Dawson Creek at that time, around 450 persons, gathered approximately $75 to be distributed among the families. The town also contributed many bundles of household articles and extra food. These were great depression years. Radio Station CFGP in Grande Prairie broadcast appeals for help for the victims.