#76 - THE BIG STORMS OF THE CENTURIES IN SOUTH-WESTERN NOVA SCOTIA
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, June 5, 1990
To astronauts, Nova Scotia must look like a big chunk of driftwood clinging to the rest of the continent by a narrow strip of land, ready to be loosen and to be blown away into the Atlantic Ocean by those strong gales of hurricane force that so often haunt our shores. One does not have to stay long in our midst to witness such tempests. They have been recorded mainly by the countless drownings and disasters which have taken place around us since centuries, leaving in our memory a frightful thought of their occurences.
During the last three or four centuries, there has been during each of them one special storm that stands out among the others. They have been so severe that they have made epochs, as to say, so much so that events would be dated as "before" or "after" the big storm. It is astonishing that these "secular" big storms have occurred at intervals of a little over one hundred years: In 1976, in the 20th century; in 1869, in the 19th; in 1759, in the 18th century.
In Yarmouth county, the storm which took place on Monday, February 2nd, 1976, called for that reason "The Groundhog Day Storm", can be considered as the big storm of the 20th century. Nobody had ever seen the like. All those who are now 20 years of age or older still remember vividly this hurricane when winds were clocked at 101 miles an hour at the Yarmouth airport and at 118 at that of Greenwood. The losses amounted to millions and millions of dollars, over four millions in the counties of Yarmouth and Digby alone. What accounted for such huge losses is that the early morning weather report called for winds of around 35 miles an hour only; thus, people did not take special precautions to protect their belongings, especially their boats and vessels.
High tide on that day occurred on our shores at noon, and that is when the storm started to display its full fury on land and sea. Waves measured as high as 30 feet. Many wharves all along the coast were reduced to timbers and dozens and dozens of vessels sank or were destroyed.
On land, many buildings were blown apart, trees were uprooted, telephone poles were knocked down. Some communities were without electricity or telephone service for days.
Although according to the Yarmouth newspapers this storm has been estimated to have been the worst storm in the area's history, there was no loss of life.
The Fundy Group Publications, which published THE VANGUARD, thought that it was important enough to issue a photographic publication of 24 pages entitled "Groundhog '76 - The Worst Storm in History of South Western Nova".
And that was the big storm of the 20th century.
The big storm of the 19th century was called the "Saxby Gale", because it was predicted ten months before it took place by Lieut. John Saxby, R. N., of the British Navy, who repeated his warning a few weeks before it happened. Many mariners took the warning seriously, and stayed in port, while others just scoffed at the idea, but it was at their detriment. It struck during the night between Monday, October 4, 1869, and Tuesday and left terrible destruction in its wake. It was reported that at some places in Nova Scotia "the tides rolled in great walls of thundering water, reaching record heights at over 100 feet and more ... Property losses on land and sea ran into hundreds of millions of dollars".
It was a night of "inky blackness", when "a large number of trees were uprooted and a number of barns unroofed throughout the County", as reported by the Yarmouth Herald". Water Street in Yarmouth was flooded over for several hours, while the waves beat and tore the waterfront and everything in its path. "Gardner's Mill was overturned and demolished. A considerable amount of hay was carried of the marshes at Argyle, the dyke gave way at Tusket Wedge, and out of 130 stacks of hay only about 15 were saved. At Pubnico several vessels were driven ashore, and 100 stacks of hay went adrift".
For a number of years, the "Saxby Gale" was used as a date of comparison and was recalled by many on the occasion of any unusual high tides or winds. According to a newspaper of the time, "estimated damage across (sic) the world from that storm ran into hundreds of millions of dollars."
And that was the big storm of the 19th century.
The big storm of the 18th century took place during the expulsion of the Acadians. It hit Nova Scotia during the night of November 3rd, 1759. It delayed the departure of some transports which were taking the Acadians into exile.
In my sketch No. 33, in which I told you of the third Expulsion of the Acadians of southern Nova Scotia, the 152 Acadians who had been hiding in the woods were taken to Halifax by Captain Gorham, where they arrived June 29th. They were to spend over four months on George Island, in Halifax Harbour, where at times they had to sleep "under the stars". During the two or three first days of November, they were put aboard the "Mary the Fourth", which was scheduled to leave for England of the 3rd. That is when rose that same evening one of the worst storms ever to hit the coast of Nova Scotia. The departure had to be postponed till the 10th.
Here is how Beamish Murdock describes this storm ("History of Nova Scotia", II, p. 375): "On the night of the 3-4 November, 1759, Saturday night and Sunday morning, the most violent gale of wind occurred at Halifax that had ever been known. Vast damage was done to wharves, and the salt and sugars in the stores on and near the beach were almost wholly ruined. Two schooners were driven ashore. Thousands of trees were blown down, and in some places the roads were rendered impassable. Several thousands pounds loss was computed to have been sustained ... The storm broke down the dykes on the Bay of Fundy everywhere, and the marsh lands now deserted were overflown and deteriorated..."
This storm was to have a devastating effect on the site of Fort St. Louis, located on the Sand Hills, at Villagedale, Shelburne county, that I told you about in my sketch No. 43. It drove the sand from the beach, which piled up over the site, hiding completely the remains of the fort for well over a hundred years, after which the wind disclosed the exact spot of the foundation of the fort, which I visited for the first time in the late 1920's, as I was saying in that sketch. Some years ago a number of trees have been planted here to hold back the sand, to the detriment of pursuing effectively researches for the foundations of the fort.
We are told that this storm had a bad effect on the grantees to whom had been distributed the lands left vacant by the Acadians. Some had to move hundreds of miles to a new community.
And that was the big storm of the 18th century.