The Fraser Valley flood, through children’s eyes

Concern for cats and the loss of Lego punctuated post-flood stories told by children who lived by 2021's Fraser Valley flooding.

By Tyler Olsen | January 24, 2023 |5:00 am

Lego and pets.

Those were the two things that Michelle Superle remembers after listening to children describe how they experienced the 2021 Sumas Prairie flood.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written chronicling the experiences of that year’s incredibly wet November. But Superle noticed that the voices of one set of people were missing: that of children. Hundreds of children fled from the rising waters that month too, including Superle’s own kid.

But their memories and stories largely went untold in the media because of their age. So Superle, a UFV English professor and Yarrow resident, sought to change that.

Last year, Superle launched a special project to solicit art and written memories from children who lived in the areas affected. This week, an exhibit showcasing those and other memories collected in UFV’s Flood Stories Project will debut at The Reach Gallery Archives in Abbotsford. You can find students’ award-winning projects here.

On Saturday, the gallery hosts an awards ceremony and children’s celebration from 11am to 2pm with a story time, poetry activities, group art project, philosophy circle and more. (The Climate Disaster Project stories co-produced by The Current will also be featured.)

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🖼 Carson Kliewer
🖼 Carson Kliewer

A different experience

After deciding to help children tell their stories, Superle spent time in Upper Sumas, Barrowtown, and Greendale elementary schools—the first two of which sit on Sumas Prairie and had been flooded.

From her conversations Superle says she noticed that children described the experience quite differently than adults. The children frequently talked about having to leave the family cat behind when they left their homes. (Families were often able to take dogs with them.)

“That really strong focus and connection on the pets is very interesting,” she said.

The kids expressed worry about the cats—and happiness when they were later re-united with their precious pet. (Superle didn’t randomly sample or survey the children: the stories she heard were the ones the kids were comfortable telling. And if darker stories lurked, the children didn’t share them.)

The general sense she got was that the children had weathered their experience remarkably well.

“I do sometimes have an issue when people are like ‘Kids are so resilient,’” she said. “It’s not that simple.”

But she gave credit to the amount of support the children who were evacuated had received.

The loss—and use—of Lego was also a recurring theme, Superle noticed. While many adults mourned the destruction of priceless memorabilia, kids had to cope with their own losses, including their Lego.

Others used blocks to process their event: one parent told Superle how their kid had re-enacted the building of a floodproof wall to keep out the water.

Children also built their own positive narratives out of their experiences. Just across the Vedder Canal from Sumas Prairie in rural western Chilliwack, children watched their families, parents, and communities rally to help out. Those kids, Superle said, seemed to focus on the community effort to solve problems collaboratively.

The kids might have experienced worry, concern, and stress. But she said a common rallying cry seems to have stuck with the kids:

“We can do this.”

The students’ projects also include pieces from teenagers and older children. Those include a painting of a mouse keeping dry on a pumpkin amid the floodwaters on Matsqui Prairie.

The concept came directly from real-life, when Jessica’s mother looked out the front window at the family yard-turned-lake. Pumpkins were floating all across the yard and on one was a small mouse.

“My mother pointed it out, and through tears, started to laugh hysterically. My sister and I joined her soon after and had the same reaction,” Boon wrote in an accompanying statement. “We found it so hilariously upsetting that the mouse was in the same situation as we were, trying to survive in a brand new environment.”

Public event

Awards in the Flood Stories Expressive Arts contests will be handed out Saturday at The Reach Gallery during a children’s celebration held in conjunction with Family Literacy Day and the opening of the Flood Stories exhibit.

You can find students’ award-winning projects here. You can see them in person at The Reach. On Saturday, the gallery hosts an awards ceremony and children’s celebration from 11am to 2pm with a story time, poetry activities, group art project, philosophy circle and more. The day also marks Family Literacy Day at the gallery with other groups also running activities.

Get FV Current in your inbox.

Plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Fraser Valley Current. You can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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