Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Escuminac Disaster is the name given for a rare June tropical cyclone which struck Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence on the night of June 19-20, 1959, resulting in the sinking of 22 fishing boats from the port of Escuminac, New Brunswick, with 35 men and boys having drowned.
The cyclone struck late in the evening of June 19, after the commercial salmon fishing fleet had sailed from Escuminac to set their nets at the mouth of Miramichi Bay and drift with them until morning.
The skies turned ominous shortly after supper that evening, and the storm hit with such ferocity that the shallow waters of the western Gulf of St. Lawrence were reportedly running between 50-60 feet in height. Unfortunately, the updated storm warnings had not been passed on from meteorologists to the fishing fleet on account of the lack of radios onboard the boats.
22 of the 54 boats, which had sailed from Escuminac, were missing, and fishermen who survived the storm described the sheer terror of the experience to rescuers from the community, Royal Canadian Air Force (from RCAF Station Chatham and RCAF Station Summerside) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who mounted a search effort over the ensuing days. Relatives of the missing maintained a vigil on the shores of the Gulf as the news story of the search for survivors gripped Canadians across the country throughout the remaining days of June 1959.
As the hopes of finding survivors dimmed, the small fishing community of Escuminac (pop. approximately 600) was faced with 19 widows and 76 fatherless children unprovided for. In addition to the loss of life, the loss of property was potentially disastrous to the entire region which saw infrastructure, such as wharves and breakwaters, damaged, vessels destroyed and fishing gear, such as trawls and lobster traps, lost or damaged beyond repair.
A relief fund was established, and contributions came in from across Canada. Even the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, itself the victim of mining disasters in 1956 and 1958, sent 2 tons of food aid alone.
Both Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who were on a Royal Tour in another part of Canada at the time, expressed their sympathies and are reportedly the source of a large anonymous donation which was made to the relief fund in the days following the event.
Today, the Escuminac Disaster Monument sits as a memorial on the shores of Escuminac Harbour, not far from the very wharf that the fleet sailed from. The monument carries the names of the 35 victims and this inscription:
- "In honour of the fishermen who lost their lives in the Escuminac disaster, June 20, 1959....Pour honorer la memoire des pecheurs qui ont perdu la vie dans la desastre Escuminac Le 20 juin, 1959."
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