When first conceived, the Hurricane Canal seemed like an impossible dream. Beginning at a point seven miles up the Virgin River, water had to travel through flumes, tunnels, and over deep ravines. The canal had to hang on steep, unstable cliffs and be tunneled through sections of mountain. To make matters more difficult, money was virtually non-existent for the local residents. Engineers said the canal could not be built.
Upriver, the little towns suffered from the flash floods of the wild Virgin River that devoured half their farmland. The men were desperate. More cultivated land was needed to support their growing families. In the fall of 1893, James Jepson of Virgin and John Steele of Toquierville envisioned and promoted the plan for the water to be brought to the “Hurricane Bench.” With a simple carpenter’s spirit level, they figured a feasible route, and men were recruited from neighboring towns. Isaac McFarlane, county surveyor, surveyed and estimated the construction cost at $53,000. The only tools available were picks, shovels, crowbars, and a homemade wheelbarrow. Over 100 hopeful me worked on the canal project the first few winters.
By 1902, long after the expected completion date, only eight to ten men were left working. Many of the men had sold their stock and quit. Expensive portions remained undone, and the few remaining men were broke and discouraged. Life was injected back into the project when Jepson went to Salt Lake City and convinced the LDS Church to buy $5,000 worth of canal stock. The influx of money restored morale; and now, giant powder to blast through tunnels and lumber to build the flumes could be purchased.
Two years later, August 6, 1904, the impossible dream came true as water flowed onto the Hurricane Bench from the canal, giving life to 2,000 acres of fertile land. The valley could now be settled. After twelve years of sacrifice, incredibly hard work, and true grit, a community was born, complete with real heroes.
The vision of two men, James Jepson and John Steele, along with the faith, dedication, and tenacity of many others, changed forever the lives and dreams of thousands of people in Utah’s Dixie. They did all this for their families. And they did it for us. We give thanks to these men of valor.