Flooding in British Columbia - Possible impact to all retailers across Canada - Retail Council of Canada
British Columbia | Health & Safety | Supply Chain & Logistics

Flooding in British Columbia – Possible impact to all retailers across Canada

November 17, 2021

RCC and our members are concerned for residents in Merritt, Princeton, Yarrow (Chilliwack) and Sumas Prairie (Abbotsford) who have experienced significant impacts from flooding.  We express our deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones as a result of the flooding. 

This note is meant to provide all RCC members with background information on the numerous washout sites, resulting transportation restrictions, and ongoing RCC engagements toward minimizing and addressing impacts to supply.  We also wish to stress that this is a developing situation that will continue to evolve throughout the day and days to come. A Provincial Emergency Declaration in B.C. is expected mid-day today. 

Background information:

  • Between the “coast” and the “interior”, there is one major highway that trucks use more than others: the Coquihalla, Highway 5. The Coquihalla is closed for at least the coming weeks.
    There are three alternative routes – but all contain long 2-lane sections. The Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 1, has multiple washouts. The Hope-Princeton Highway, Highway 3, has a large washout east of Sunshine Valley – Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said yesterday that it may re-open over the weekend but by itself, it does not have sufficient capacity for the supply chain. Highway 99, the Sea-to-Sky Highway and the Duffy Lake Road, is unsuitable for large truck traffic and has multiple washouts.
  • The rail lines are optimistic about restoring service but realistically it could take a week or longer. There are CN Rail and CP Rail tracks – often on the alternate sides of the Fraser River – and so it may be possible to get one route open – and the railways are accustomed to sharing rail capacity for one another’s freight.
  • Chilliwack, Hope, Mission and Agassiz, and parts of Abbotsford are all isolated by the flooding. Highways 1 and 7 through the Fraser Valley from Vancouver to Hope (which connect to Highways 1, 3 and 5 to the Interior) are all blocked. As of this morning, Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley was still underwater. Highway 7 is blocked in more than 5 different places. The timing for their reopening is to be determined.
  • There are smaller but significant challenges elsewhere in the Fraser Valley, in the Southern Interior and on Vancouver Island. Highway 1, the Malahat Highway, the only major road link leading north from the Capital Regional District to the remainder of Vancouver Island was washed out.  It is now one-lane, alternating directions for 30 minutes, and closed at night for repairs. The province believes that it will be repaired in the coming days.
  • The alternate route from the coast to the interior through the U.S. is more than twice the time – without counting time at the border. One of the four Vancouver area border crossings remains under water and is closed.
  • There are construction issues on Highway 1 between B.C. and Alberta, and Highway 3. The Crowsnest Past is closed east of Fernie. Other roads to Alberta, and roads to Washington State are open at this time.

Reliable information is available from Drive BC.

What RCC is doing:

  • RCC is working with several retailers, Emergency Management BC, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to discuss potential supply chain impacts. In addition, RCC is working with a consortium of industry associations and officials to identify short term remedial solutions as noted below. 
  • We have worked with the Port to ensure that the major retail networks using the port/rail are kept informed. 
  • RCC has informed the federal government that it may be necessary for some essential goods to come from Washington State, meaning there may be a short-term need to relax labelling restrictions. On a related matter, RCC members should note that routing through the US can only be done via bonded carriage, though the senior leadership of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has indicated to RCC a willingness to assess its operational protocols in keeping with the emergency situation, which could potentially expedite border crossing.
  • RCC has and will continue to do a significant amount of media to ensure that customers and employees can be kept safe and to avoid hording of essential goods.

RCC’s media messaging:

  • RCC expresses our concern and hope for people in B.C. affected by the storm damage – particularly those in Merritt, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
  • In addition to flooding in numerous communities in southwestern British Columbia and on Vancouver Island, both regions are experiencing significant supply chain challenges resulting from weather-related damage.
  • Empty shelves at some supermarkets should only be a temporary phenomenon in the wake of flooding that has closed highways. Supply chains are working to compensate for the disruption in normal trucking patterns. Retailers are exploring all avenues to get product to stores as quickly as possible.
  • RCC urges shoppers to avoid a repeat of the panic buying of some supplies that was seen during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 
  • RCC is aware of a number of grocery distribution centres in Southern Alberta that are already providing service to southern and eastern British Columbia. While most perishable goods are shipped by truck, consumer goods are typically sent by rail. We understand that rail companies are hopeful that they will be able to resume regular shipping quite quickly.
  • RCC is working around the clock with government stakeholders, major grocers, food distributors and other essential goods sellers to discuss and address any potential supply chain issues.

RCC is available to assist in any way that we can.  We will continue to provide updates on supply chain issues and product availability as this situation evolves.

We thank you for your support and encourage you to contact us if additional information is required. 

For questions or more information contact

Avery Bruenjes
Senior Manager, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs