Fraser River Heroes of the November 2021 Flood Disaster

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Fishing guides to the rescue

It began with warnings that something big was coming. The first rains started Saturday, November 13, and by Wednesday, Premier John Horgan had declared a provincial state of emergency to support numerous local and regional declarations.

Nov 2021 Flood

Environment Canada calls it an “atmospheric river.” That’s meteorologist-speak for a hell of a big rainstorm, or what we once called the then-harmless Pineapple Express. Whatever name it goes by, it had hurricane-like consequences that are running damage estimates into the billions of dollars.

The wreckage spread from southern Vancouver Island across the lower mainland, up the Fraser Valley and into the southern interior. A one-two punch of torrential rain, followed by up to 100 km/hr winds, delivered a relentless two-day pummeling to communities from Merritt in the interior, to Sooke on Vancouver Island.

At one point, the Malahat scenic route looked like a giant two-lane waterslide (without the fun) as the runoff topped the concrete median and ripped away part of one lane forcing the road’s closure. This isolated Victoria, creating panic gasoline buying that is still occurring despite advice to the contrary. The province’s most heavily populated region stretching from Vancouver to Hope got similar treatment, closing access routes to the rest of BC due to flooding, landslides, road instability, and bridge failures.

When Premier Horgan announced a Provincial state of emergency he also thanked British Columbians who answered the call for help.

This story is about one group of British Columbians who responded in a big way: the Fraser River fishing guide community, aided by regular river anglers.

Guide boat – photo provided by Lee Bouthillier

These not-so-ordinary citizens know the river intimately, have the equipment to meet the challenges, and did so without a second thought. Their actions were rapid, coordinated, and professional. Yet their selflessness has gone largely unrecognized in news coverage so far. The evening of November 18, Island Fisherman publisher Joel Unickow asked me if I could cover this. “Tom, with all that’s wrong with the world today, it never ceases to amaze me how people in and around the sport fishing community are so selfless.,” he said. “Whether it’s muddy boots on the rivers, cold wet hands at a hatchery, or boats to the rescue—these people are special. This is the news that the world needs now.”

Lee Bouthillier

The following verbatim excerpts come from an email sent to Island Fisherman by Lee Bouthillier. Lee is a co-owner of Stone’s Speed Shop in Chilliwack, as well the Chilliwack Adventure Company guiding service. He provides a first-hand account of what it was actually like, running this mini-Dunkirk operation on Fraser River. His story, replicated many times by others, speaks to the character, commitment to community and “Let’s get it done” attitude of these volunteers.

Here is an edited version of his email:

There were seven of us that started at 10 a.m. Wednesday from the Gill Road boat launch. We all had groups waiting for us in Hope, except Roland Bouthillier who took the next five people in line. I picked up a friend, his daughter, their dog, and my business partner with his adult children. The other five boats already had their lists of people to pick up.

Photo provided by Lee Bouthillier

We headed back to Chilliwack, by this time we knew how long it was (85 km 2 ½- to 3-hour round trip) and what kind of fuel was involved. Roland ran into trouble on the way down with debris in his pump. He was also low on fuel when he got to Chilliwack.

I figured I’d get at least one more trip in safely and went back for a second round, as did five other boats. Robert from Kilby Lodge arrived and followed me up. By this time word had got out and people were calling my shop asking for seats.

On the second run we just grabbed whoever wanted on. It was getting late, but there were so many people wanting to come they were just walking on the boat. I put eight on the second run to see how the boat would handle. It was ok, so I called my shop and had my parts guy run out and find as much fuel as he could.

I knew I was running out of daylight, but there were still people at the Hope boat launch, so I went for the third trip. I got there just before the sun was going down, loaded five people and got out as fast as we could. Halfway back it went black and we ran down with just navigation lights and a light bar to watch for logs.

Wednesday night Highway 7 opened, but by 6:30 a.m. Thursday, the phone was going crazy with people wanting to get home or back to work in Hope.

This time it was more logistics and less people. The first trip up was one guy going to work in Hope with one on the return wanting to get to the Sunshine Coast for work. There was also a lady who worked at the Hope hospital who had missed a flight from Chilliwack to Hope.

Before we left Hope, a guy ran up to the boat looking for a ride. He had somehow traveled down from Kamloops where his car was a write-off.

On his last run Lee got a call from a trucker.

His refrigerated truck was on the highway near Hope, and he needed to get diesel into it before his load of cream spoiled, so one more round trip that would finish in the dark.

By the end of this I would say I saw almost every Chilliwack/ Hope guide on the move, including Vic Carrao with his monster 12 seat jet boat. Once again, Chilliwack people banded together and worked magic when people are in need.

Photo Courtesy Vic Carrao’s Facebook Page

In six trips Lee moved 27 people, five dogs, fuel, groceries, and baby formula while consuming 500 litres of fuel.

Vic Carrao, who now lives in Parksville, previously owned STS Guiding Service in Mission, BC. When disaster fell, he had to return to his old backyard where he ran sturgeon fishing and guided tours into the Fraser Canyon. When asked why he came to help Vic simply said, “This area was such a big part of my life, and it was close to my heart.” He moved 69 people out of Hope and 10 people back, plus two loads of food.

Photo courtesy of Vic Carrao’s Facebook page

This is a meagre snapshot of what has been happening in the Fraser Valley. Those who contributed to this article are just a fraction of the good Samaritans from the angling community. Island Fisherman has already identified a number of guides and anglers who have been instrumental in this effort and deserve to be publicly recognized for their commitments, as should the many other ordinary citizens and organizations who have responded to this crisis.

Photo courtesy of Brad Meuller’s Facebook page
Photo posted to Facebook by STS Guiding Services Nov 18
Young family – Photo Courtesy Vic Carrao’s Facebook Page
Photo courtesy Brad Mueller’s Facebook Page

Note:

Island Fisherman Magazine will update this article and identify more anglers and guides who have been part of this effort. If you were involved, or know someone who was, or know people in photos we are posting, please forward that information to Island Fisherman Magazine.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a wonderful tribute to some of the many unsung hero’s in this BC tragedy. Thank you to each one who put others ahead of yourselves and answered the call of many who needed help. May you all be humbly proud of your efforts and greatly blessed because of them.

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