- this page is still under construction and about 80% complete -
René's four Canadian Disasters books deal with seventy-one significant and sometimes forgotten tragic events in Canadian history. His research often uncovered fascinating details that could not be included in his published stories for the sake of length. René is willing to share, collaborate on longer books & research, or just gather new information on any of the topics below. Those topics listed in bold print have been written about and a note will indicate which edition(s) of Canadian Disasters they are covered in.
Contact him if you would like to connect with him or if you want him to include such details in an author visit. (Go to Contact René) or if you have personal information on one of these events he'd love to hear from you. His stories are always improved with personal verifiable information.
Aircraft Disasters - Accidental Because of our nation's size and many remote communities Canada has had hundreds of accidental aircraft crashes and fatalities. A recent serious crash was First Air Flight 6560 that crashed about two kilometres short of the runway at Resolute Bay, Nunavut in 2011. The Boeing 737 was carrying freight and passengers from Yellowknife and the flight had been making its approach in limited visibility. On impact twelve people were killed instantly including the flight crew. Three passengers survived the crash. Remarkably an Armed Forces disaster response team was training for a mock disaster in Resolute Bay at that time and responded immediately. (Canadian Disasters 2013) The Arrow Air Crash in Gander Newfoundland in 1985 is still surrounded by mystery. A hastily concluded investigation blamed the pilot for taking off without sufficiently removing ice from the wings of the DC-8 but eyewitnesses reported seeing flames and hearing and explosion just before the aircraft crashed, killing all 256 on board. The jet was carrying American soldiers back from duty in the Middle East. (Disaster! 1999) Swissair Flight 111 Swissair Flight 111 from New York to Geneva on September 2nd, 1998 was passing over Canadian airspace when the pilot made an emergency call to land at Halifax International airport. The Swissair MD-11 had a fire in the cockpit. Navigation instruments were failing and visibility was poor, yet the pilots were able to turn, dump fuel and descend for final approach to Halifax. Then the aircraft crashed into St. Margaret's Bay instantly killing all 229 aboard. Halifax residents showed particular kindness to families of victims and a memorial stands on the picturesque rocks of Peggy's Cove. (read Disaster! 2000 - second edition-) Trans Canada Airlines Flight 831 In 1963 a Trans Canada Airlines DC-8 crashed at St. Therese-de-Blainville, Quebec killing all on board. The aircraft had just taken off from Montreal's Dorval Airport and entered a thundercloud when it suddenly went into a steep dive. The DC-8 came hurtling to earth and crashed into a hillside, killing all 118 aboard. The cause of the jet's failure is unknown because data flight recorders were not yet required to be installed on passenger aircraft. (Canadian Disasters 1985 & Disaster!) The fire aboard Air Canada flight 797 changed many aviation rules for the good of all passengers. In 1983 a DC-9 passenger jet en route from Dallas, Texas, to Montreal experienced a fire in a rear cabin wall. The fire could not be extinguished and spread rapidly into the ceiling, affecting electric controls. The pilot immediately descended for an emergency landing in Cincinnati, Ohio. The jet landed safely but as emergency doors opened for passengers to evacuate, incoming air caused the smouldering fire in the passenger compartment to become fully inflamed. Smoke was so thick many passengers could not find exits and twenty-three passengers died. Among the dead was award-winning folk singer Stan Rogers*. Incredibly, until that time, smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers were not required to be installed in passenger aircraft. Making that a requirement and providing emergency exit lighting became an industry standard within five years, largely as a result of this disaster. *Rogers was a keen student of Canadian History and wrote a ballad about the Franklin Expedition (see below). (Canadian Disasters 2013) The Cougar Helicopter Crash In 2009 a Sikorsky S-92A helicopter crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing fifteen of the sixteen passengers and both pilots. In this case, the helicopter lost oil pressure in the main gearbox and the pilots were doing an emergency return to St. Johns, assuming their aircraft could operate during the required return distance before the gearbox failed. This was not the case. The gearbox failed suddenly and completely, causing the pilots to make an overly hard autorotation landing onto the ocean. Extensive damage caused the helicopter to sink so quickly only one passenger, Robert Decker, was able to exit and survive. (Canadian Disasters 2013)
Murder & Terrorism Air India Flight 182 Although the aircraft belonged to India, the terrorist explosion of Air India Flight 182 ranks as Canada's worst terrorist attack. The flight originated in Canada and the majority of those killed, 268 of 329 passengers, were Canadians. The 1985 destruction of the Air India 747 over the Atlantic Ocean remains one of the worst terrorist attacks in the world. The Canadian investigation and trial of suspects Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat was the longest and costliest in Canadian history, lasting almost 20 years. RCMP and CSIS were severely criticized for losing key evidence. Parmar was shot dead by police in India but Reyat, suspected of masterminding the attack was eventually only jailed for manslaughter. Many Canadians of Indian descent are still unable to feel 'closure' decades after this event. A significant reference is the book The Sorrow and The Terror written by Clark Blaise (Rene's writing prof at York) and his wife the late Baharati Mukherjee. (Canadian Disasters 1999, 2006, 2013) Canadian Pacific Flight 21 One of Canada's most significant cold cases is still unsolved. In 1965 a mysterious bomb exploded aboard a Canadian Pacific DC-6 flight between Vancouver and Whitehorse, Yukon. All forty-six passengers and six crew members were killed as the aircraft exploded and crashed 270 kilometres north of Vancouver in central B.C. Despite the remote interior location, the explosion was heard and the crash partly witnessed by forestry workers nearby. A lengthy RCMP investigation was unable to prove who planted the bomb. (Canadian Disasters 2013) Did you know the Halifax Explosion of 1917 was first considered by some to have been a deliberate act of war caused by German enemy agents? But Canada's worst disaster of the modern times was an accident after all. During World War I a French ammunition ship, the Mont Blanc, fully loaded with explosives, collided with another ship in Halifax harbour. The Mont Blanc drifted and burned while hundreds watched in fascination, unaware of the ship's cargo. When the Mont Blanc exploded the force was equal to that of a nuclear bomb, vaporizing much of the ship, killing 1600 people instantly, flattening hundreds of buildings and blowing most of the water from the harbour. Its detonation was felt hundreds of kilometres away. It remains the world's largest and most deadly accidental explosion. By day's end the dead numbered 2000 people and 4000 more were injured, many of those blinded by flying glass. (Canadian Disasters 1985, 2006, 2013, Disaster! 1999)
Arctic Disasters Having far more coastline than any other country, and since much of Canada is in forbidding Arctic climate, there are many Canadian Arctic disasters. Read further about the First Air Flight to Resolute Bay (above) and The Franklin Expedition (below).
Beothuk Native Extinction Although many of the details have been lost since the 1600's and 1700's, the disappearance of a distinct nation of people, the indigenous Beothuk of Newfoundland, remains a tragic chapter in Canadian History. Separating truth from old rumours and hearsay is difficult, but the century-long culture clash between early European settlers to Newfoundland and the native Beothuk living there resulted in total extinction of the latter. Not a single descendant of these Beothuk people, whose language and culture were rich and successful, remains today. Canadian Disasters (1985 edition) has the story.
Boys in Red (see transportation disasters below)
Brighton Train Derailment and Fire (See Train Disasters below)
City Fires in Canada City fires used to devastate North American towns and cities through the 18th and 19th centuries. Tightly spaced wooden houses, flimsy chimneys and firewood stacked in yards ensured a fast spread of house fires if a good wind was blowing. The Quebec Fire Quebec's beautiful stone buildings in its lower town and Old Quebec owe their long existence to two devastating fires a month apart in 1845. Dozens were killed and 1500 people were made homeless. City fathers enforced absolute rules about stone construction, wall thickness, firewood storage and easy access to roofs to ensure such a devastation would never happen again. (Canadian Disasters 2013) Toronto Fire Toronto had its worst fire in 1907 when 80 hectares of the downtown business district was destroyed one summer night. Ninety-eight large buildings, mostly made of wood, burned to the ground. Fortunately there was no loss of life. (Disaster! 1999) Vancouver Fire Vancouver's worst fire happened in 1886 when a fire to clear away slash got out of control and destroyed much of the new city and killed dozens of residents. Vancouver was immediately rebuilt and fire fighting equipment was purchased and special constables assigned for fire prevention. (Canadian Disasters 1985 & 2013) The Slave Lake Fire of 2011 forced the evacuation of 15 000 people and 700 million dollars worth of damage. (Canadian Disasters 2013)
See also Forest Fires, Laurier Palace Theatre Fire, below)
Climate & Weather Events Climate Change is a measurable and provable phenomenon affecting Canada and the rest of the world. Nevertheless with Canada's vast size and coastline, we also have a long history of extreme weather events that probably occurred as natural cycles of weather extremes. The 1775 Hurricane is estimated to have taken 4000 lives of European fishermen summering on the Newfoundland coast and changed the course of history: devastating so many British warships that the smaller American navy was given a tactical advantage during the American War for Independence a year later. (Canadian Disaster 2013) The Great Lakes Storm of 1913, sometimes called the White Hurricane, remains unsurpassed in modern records. That single storm destroyed thirty large freight ships, eight of them sank 'with all hands'... (that's like eight repeats of the Edmund Fitzgerald going down in one weekend winter storm!) The location of many of those wrecks remain unknown, yet that storm is virtually forgotten by most Canadians. (Canadian Disasters 1985, 2006, 2013 Disaster! 1999) Hurricane Hazel in 1954 was a rare hurricane that crossed inland from the American east coast and came to Ontario with a fury. Hazel caused catastrophic flooding in Toronto's many ravines and valleys and drowned about 100 people. In the Humber River valley a whole street of houses were swept away. Zoning laws have since prevented Toronto builders from building houses on floodplains and instead the city created a beautiful series of parks. (Canadian Disasters 1985, 2006, 2013 Disaster! 1999) The Ice Storm of 1998 was a devastating winter storm that hovered over the Ottawa and St. Lawrence river basins for two weeks and dropped almost 20 cm of freezing rain onto one of the largest population areas of Canada. The storm took 25 lives and shut down schools, commerce, power lines, and transportation for up to three weeks after. Damage to trees and structures was visible for decades. (Canadian Disasters 2006, 2013, Disaster! 1999) In 2003 Hurricane Juan, though just a category 2 storm, struck Halifax directly and did massive damage, killing eight. (Canadian Disasters 2006) Manitoba's Red River Floods in 1950 and 1997, and a killer flood in the Saguenay in 1996 are still remembered for their destruction. (Canadian Disasters 2006, 2013, Disaster!)
West Coast Mine Disasters The Crowsnest Pass area on the border of Alberta and British Columbia has been the site of many of Canada's worst loss-of-life events in the 1800's. Coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass offered decent employment opportunities for new immigrants, but they also proved the dangers of extracting soft and highly flammable coal from those mountains. The Hillcrest Mine was the site of Canada's deadliest mine accident, with 189 men killed in a single devastating explosion. The Hillcrest Mine site overlooked the rubble of Turtle Mountain, the mountain that a few years earlier collapsed and rolled down onto the sleeping residents of Frank, Alberta. The resulting Frank Slide entombed about 70 people underneath 80 millions of tonnes of broken rock. Towards the west, the Coal Creek Mine was the scene of the deaths of more than 190 men from explosions and 'bumps' in less than sixty years it operated. (Canadian Disasters 2013)
East Coast Mine Disasters The crushing Springhill Mine Disasters in Springhill, Nova Scotia occurred in 1891, 1956 and 1958. The first involved the deaths of 125 miners, including boys as young as twelve. The last two Springhill mine 'bumps' killed many but also trapped dozens of men underground for days before they were rescued by persistent rescue efforts led by ordinary miners. The Springhill Miracles as these rescues came to be known, proved people can survive much longer in these conditions than the experts originally thought. (Canadian Disasters 1985, 2006, 2013 Disaster! 1999) Westray Mine Disaster is a textbook case of management failure. So many infractions of rules occurred in the Westray Mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia in 1992 and so regularly, that virtually all the miners understood the mine would someday have a major explosion. Twenty-six men died as an explosion, ignited by any one of several possible sources, destroyed the mine on May 9th 1992. The inquest blamed mine owners, management, and the Nova Scotia government for not closing the mine after numerous serious infractions. Eleven bodies are still entombed there. (Canadian Disasters 2006, 2013)
Edmund Fitzgerald The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in November of 1975 has been memorialized by Gordon Lightfoot's iconic ballad, The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald. The sudden loss of a 750 foot freight ship and its crew of twenty-nine, without so much as a "MayDay" call, reminded Canadians and Americans that modern equipment and safety standards may still be bested by a horrific storm, or a navigation error. Captain Bernie Cooper, following the Edmund Fitzgerald in his ship Arthur M Anderson, noticed "Big Fitz" had passed too close to a dangerous shoal that possibly tore its hull. Hours later the ship suddenly disappeared from the Anderson's radar. Despite the danger, Cooper and his ship, along with the freighter William Clay Ford, returned into the severe storm to search for survivors of the Edmond Fitzgerald. Though the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald has been located, mystery still remains as to what caused it to sink.
Empress of Ireland While the Titanic is probably the most famous shipwreck of the last hundred years, the loss of the Canadian Pacific passenger liner Empress of Ireland is almost forgotten. Yet the Empress of Ireland sank just fourteen minutes after a coal freighter collided with it and 1014 people drowned. More passengers died aboard the Empress than died on the Titanic just two years earlier. The ship sank within sight of the Quebec shore on the St. Lawrence river and had more than adequate lifeboats and watertight doors installed. How did it sink so quickly? Canadian Disasters 2006, 2013
Forest Fires! Forest fires consume many hectares of forest every year and often endanger Canada's towns and cities. Canada's worst killing forest fire was the Miramichi Fire in 1825, that killed more than 300 people and destroyed about one third of northern New Brunswick. Ontario's Matheson Fire destroyed three small towns and took the lives of 223 people in Black River, Matheson and Iroquois Falls in 1916. (Canadian Disasters 1985) The 2016 Fort McMurray Fire was the most costly modern fire in Canada, doing almost 10 billion dollars worth of damage to Fort McMurray, destroying 2400 buildings and displacing 88 000 people at its peak.
Fluorspar Mine Disaster & Industrial Disease. From 1937 to 1978 the fluorspar mine in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland operated and gave steady employment to local residents. Yet until 1960 the shaft mine lacked a ventilation shaft for fresh air and the men were not given the proper dust-suppressing water-lubricated mining drills to use. They worked with dry drills in poorly ventilated conditions and inhaled dust constantly. There was also a low-grade uranium deposit nearby steadily leaking radiation into the mine. The extremely high rates of cancer and silicosis became an open secret but were not officially revealed until many of the men were dead or dying. Hundreds died over the years but the exact count may never be known. (Canadian Disasters 1985)
Franklin Expedition Back in the 1850's maps of the world showed blank spaces in the Arctic and Antarctic regions because no European ships had gone that far north. Venturing to the North Pole in those days was as challenging, lengthy and dangerous as reaching the planet Mars today. Sir John Franklin's three attempts to map the northern coastline of our country (which wasn't yet 'Canada') and the tragic disappearance of both his ships and all his men in the third attempt remains one of the Arctic's greatest mysteries. His quest to discover the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific may have been completed by his men but the information, if they had it, was carried to their deaths in the bitter cold. Before the Titanic, the loss of the Franklin Expedition was the most popular mystery of the western world. Dozens of attempts to find the men failed and sometimes cost more lives. Arctic voyages continued over the decades to find clues to Franklin's disappearance and many fat books have been written, each with a different theory. René took extra months to distill a plausible, readable story from all the theories. (My Franklin story in Canadian Disasters 2013 is, of course, outdated because in 2014 divers found HMS Erebus where the Inuit oral history said one of Franklin's ships lay abandoned. The 2016 finding of the HMS Terror, also not where science predicted, but rather where an Inuk hunter had seen a mast, proved that folks who make the Arctic their home may have more reliable information than scientists gave them credit for! R.S.) René has a PowerPoint presentation of the Franklin story, updated to include all the recent the evidence. (Canadian Disasters 2013)
Influenza & the Spanish 'Flu The common strains of influenza virus mutate and change frequently to deceive our immune systems. Every year new strains develop. Usually influenza targets the frail and elderly, and every year many people in Canada die of it. The Spanish Flu of 1918 was significant in two ways; it was the worst killer influenza of the modern era, and it also was especially deadly for the young and healthy. Within days or even hours a victim could die of it. Many of its victims were soldiers returning from the vermin-infested trenches on crowded troop ships after World War I ended. These sick soldiers unwittingly brought Spanish Flu to Canada and 50,000 Canadians died of it in 1918. Sixty million died world-wide. (Canadian Disasters 2013)
Lac Megantic The terrible derailment and explosion of tanker cars carrying crude oil devastated beautiful Lac Megantic, Quebec, and killed 47 people in 2013. Although hearings and trials are ongoing, blame had been placed on the train engineer for not setting enough brakes as he parked the train for the night, on the railroad company for lax safety regulations, and on the oil industry for adding volatile chemicals to thin the crude oil carried in tank cars. Meanwhile the town mourns. Residents are asking for rules to send dangerous train cargoes around their town and not through it. Unfortunately Lac Megantic like many Canadian towns had its origins on the water's edge, the lowest part of town. Train tracks run downhill for several kilometres into the heart of the town. In other Canadian towns with a similar layout, there is always the likelihood of a runaway train derailing and killing innocent residents. See the Mississauga Train Derailment
Laurier Palace Theatre Fire There was a time when Canadian children could crowd into a movie theatre, sit in aisles or jam two-to-a-seat to enjoy a Sunday afternoon movie. In 1927 seventy-seven people, mostly children, died in the Laurier Palace Theatre in Montreal. Panic ensued when a small fire broke out and children began to flee. Most of the dead were asphyxiated after tripping in a narrow stairwell and falling on top of each other. Strict rules on seating, exit stairways, and emergency exits have been in place ever since. (Canadian Disasters 1985, Disaster! 1999)
Listeriosis Outbreak of 2008 Listeria bacteria is common and causes several deaths in Canada every year. An outbreak in 2008 resulted in far greater numbers than usual. It was traced to meat products from Maple Leaf Food's meat processing plant in Toronto. Maple Leaf Foods took action to shut down the suspected production lines and recall the affected foods. Company president Michael McCain took the unusual step of admitting liability early in the outbreak. Across Canada twenty-two people died of listeriosis. (Canadian Disasters 2013
Newfoundland Seal Hunt Disaster of 1914 The Newfoundland seal hunt has fallen out of favour in recent decades. Still, the hunting of seals on the ice floes surrounding Newfoundland was an essential part of the local winter economy for centuries. In 1914, with callous disregard for safety, a sea captain sent 123 sealers back across the ice floes in a growing storm, ordering them to return to their own ship several kilometres distant. Unseen by those on ships nearby the storm overtook and killed 77 of the men over the course of two days. Canadian Disasters (1985 edition)
Noronic Fire Cruise ships used to travel much more frequently between Great Lakes cities and ports in the early to mid 1900's. One of these, Canada Steamship Lines Noronic, burned in Toronto harbour in 1949. One hundred eighteen passengers died in the fire. Without the rigorous safety standards of today, much of the Noronic firefighting equipment was inadequate or broken. The ship's wooden interior walls, covered in layers of flammable paint, burned with particular intensity and speed. Most passengers had no chance to escape. Canadian Disasters 1985
Ocean Ranger The Mobil Oil Ocean Ranger drilling rig operating in the Hibernia oil fields on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland had a poor reputation. Crew and workers were nervous about the casual attitude to safety on the giant rig, calling it the Ocean Danger. Safety rules were flaunted or ignored. On Valentine's Day in 1982 an Atlantic storm shattered a window and shorted the controls in the ballast control room where the rig is kept floating level. The operator may not have been properly trained in using the emergency manual override and couldn't call his alternate for help because the intercom was broken. While the storm battered the rig a 10-15 degree list grew and ballast pumps could not correct the list. Workers were ordered to evacuate. These efforts were largely unsuccessful as lifeboats were pounded against the rig's pillars and emergency flotation suits were unavailable or unsuitable. As rescue ships approached the only lifeboat still afloat rolled over and spilled its passengers into the freezing Atlantic, some wearing only pyjamas. All eighty-four workers on the Ocean Ranger died. More strict rules and regular emergency drills have been mandated by the Provincial and Federal governments. Disaster! 1999, Canadian Disasters 2006, 2013
Phocomelia & Thalidomide Phocomelia, a deformation of the human fetus, is a rare birth defect in which infants are born with severely shortened forelimbs, absent limbs, absent pelvises or other serious deformities. Only 40-50% of infants with phocomelia survive. In Canada this rare condition became common when pregnant women used Thalidomide in the early 1960's. Thalidomide was a non-prescription drug marketed as being safe for pregnant women to lessen the effects of morning sickness or nausea. But as birth abnormalities began to be noticed in Europe and the United States (where Thalidomide was sold under names such as Kevadon and Talimol), Chemie Grunenthal, the drug company, hid initial findings that connected the drug to nerve damage and other problems. In Canada about 80 babies survived the effects of Thalidomide, their phocomelia affecting them with various disabilities. Their lives have been made more difficult by having to fight several lengthy battles for compensation. Canadian Disasters (1985 edition)
Polio Polio was a scourge in Canada until the 1950's. Everyone knew someone affected. Little was known about how the disease spread because viruses were not understood or able to be detected. Polio often attacked children and left them crippled or unable to breathe without an "iron-lung", a vacuum chamber that assists breathing. Many victims died. In a typical year Polio would strike 5000 - 7000 Canadians and kill 300 to 800 of those. American researcher Jonas Salk finally developed a vaccine for polio and Connaught Laboratories of Toronto was one of the first to successfully refine safe dosages of polio vaccine. Canada was one of the first countries to see Polio almost totally eradicated in 1954-55. Polio still exists in some poor countries. Famous Canadians Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and former Prime Minister Paul Martin (and his father) were all polio victims.
Pont du Quebec / Quebec Bridge Eighty-eight workers died in two separate collapses during construction of the enormous Quebec Bridge that crosses the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City. The original design of the world's longest cantilever bridge was significantly weaker than needed to support itself during construction. The design flaw went uncorrected by several teams of engineers, significantly Theodore Cooper, an American engineer with expertise in building large bridges. In 1907 construction of the southern portion of the bridge began to reveal significant stresses in a key vertical support. Cooper was consulted but before orders were relayed to halt construction the entire southern half collapsed, killing 75 workers. Nine years later a much stronger bridge was almost complete and the centre section being hoisted into place from a barge when a corner support broke away. The centre section fell into the river, killing thirteen more workers. The completed Quebec Bridge still carries traffic from Quebec to Levis, a hundred years and eighty-eight lives later. Significantly, Canadian engineers wear an iron ring, originally made with iron from the Quebec Bridge, on their dominant hand to remind them not to make foolish and fatal errors. Canadian Disasters 1985, 2006, 2013
Princess Sophia In 1918 the Canadian Pacific passenger steamer Princess Sophia ran aground onto Vanderbilt Reef north of Juneau Alaska. Perched on the reef in calm water the captain decided to wait until morning before off-loading passengers onto several waiting rescue ships. The water was calm and he didn't want to upset his passengers. A storm arose during the night, tearing the ship off the reef and sinking it. None of the rescue ships could assist nor could lifeboats be launched. All 343 passengers and crew died resulting in the worst sea disasters on Canada's west coast. Canadian Disasters 1985
SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) originated in China as a virus that transferred from an animal host to a human. It became highly contagious and deadly. People infected had symptoms like pneumonia but they could not be treated with antibiotics. Many died. SARS quickly spread from China to Hong Kong and other modern cities. The virus spread with a cough or a sneeze but stayed dormant for many hours or days, making detection very difficult. SARS hit Toronto especially hard and many medical professionals got infected while treating patients. Forty Canadians died of SARS and several hospitals were quarantined and their staff kept isolated as they treated SARS victims. SARS deaths are a small number compared to yearly Flu fatalities, but the speed of SARS spreading and the difficulty in treating and detecting it made this outbreak significant. New and strict protocols for hospitals have been implemented ever since. (Canadian Disasters 2006, 2013)
Second Narrows Bridge Disaster Vancouver's Second Narrows Bridge was being constructed in 1958 when a section of the bridge collapsed, triggering a similar collapse of the section next to it. The collapse killed eighteen workers including two of the engineers who may have been responsible for a miscalculation that led to the collapse. (Canadian Disasters 1985, Disaster!)
Titanic Although the Titanic was a British flagged passenger ship of the Cunard Line travelling to New York on its maiden voyage, there were many Canadians on board this most famous ship when it sank in 1912. As many as one in seven of the passengers and crew were Canadian or had a Canadian destination. Some of the first rescue efforts and the recovery of many of the dead were undertaken by ships from Halifax and many of the dead were buried there. The story continues to be told of how the Titanic, for reasons not fully understood, navigated into an area heavy with icebergs under full steam. It collided with one of them. Its designers, confident of its 'virtually unsinkable' reputation had not equipped the ship with enough lifeboats for all the passengers. Nearby ships mistook or ignored the Titanic's distress signals. The steady rate at which it sank should have allowed many more passengers to survive but many of the lifeboats were launched only partly filled. Over 1500 passengers and crew died, although the death toll of passengers was not as great as Canada's Empress of Ireland two years later. (Canadian Disasters 2013)
Killer Tornados Tornados are the world's most violent wind storms with circling winds that can exceed 482 kilometres per hour (300 mph). They may last a few minutes or several hours and may be as narrow as five metres or up to a kilometre wide. Canada's worst was the Regina Tornado of 1912. It caused the deaths of 28 people and destroyed much of the downtown core. The next most serious was the Edmonton Tornado in 1987 that took 27 lives, injured more than 300 people and destroyed factories, houses and 91 trailer homes in a trailer park. Eyewitnesses were able to capture the action of the deadly storm on film. The Pine Lake Tornado in Alberta in 2000 killed twelve people as it hit a trailer park. Extreme weather conditions in Ontario spawned a series of deadly tornadoes on a Friday afternoon in May 1985. The most serious, The Barrie Tornado took eight lives in the town of Barrie while several other tornadoes, produced by the same storm, simultaneously traced lines of destruction through smaller towns and villages in a large area over 100 kilometres long and wide. Significantly one of these tornadoes travelled a record 90 kilometres in a continuously destructive path and another travelled 85 kilometres before it died out. In all twelve people died as a result of these series of tornadoes.
Train Disasters - Canada's worst train disaster, the St. Hilaire Bridge Disaster happened in 1864 at Beloeil, Quebec. A Grant Trunk Railway train of freight cars packed with immigrant workers from Eastern Europe approached the open St. Hilaire bridge at too great a speed. The engine, followed by the train cars, fell into the Richelieu River. It is believed at least 99 passengers and crew died, but incomplete records made determining the exact death count impossible. (Canadian Disasters 2013) The Dejardins Canal Train Disaster outside Hamilton Ontario occurred in 1857 when a passenger train engine derailed just before a wooden railroad bridge crosses the Desjardins canal near Dundas. The engine and other train cars fell into the canal. About 60 people died. (Canadian Disasters 1985) Dugald Train Wreck at Dugald Manitoba happened in 1947. A passenger train carrying cottagers and families returning to Winnipeg in a train of outdated wooden train cars slammed into a CNR Transcontinental train stopped on the main line. Forty passengers died when the older wooden cars derailed and burst into flames. (Canadian Disasters 1985) Hinton Train Wreck of 1986 happened when a westbound CNR freight train, almost two kilometres long, drove through numerous signals and a siding at full speed and slammed into the fourteen cars of the eastbound VIA Transcontinental passenger train. The much heavier freight hurled the passenger cars off the tracks and sent freight car after freight car slamming into the mess. Twenty three people were killed including the front end crews of both trains. An inquest found the freight train engineer and brakeman had not responded to any signals and may have been unconscious or asleep. (Disaster!) Mississauga Train Derailment The evacuation of a quarter million residents from Mississauga Ontario in 1979 is a textbook case of successful disaster planning and implementation. A 79 car freight train was carrying tank cars of volatile liquids and at least one containing liquid chlorine when it derailed in a densely populated part of Mississauga. Crashing tank cars burned and some propane tank cars exploded. A derailed chlorine tank car was very close to the flames and had the potential to create deadly chlorine gas. Evacuation and emergency response teams quickly evacuated residents and sealed the area. Evacuations continued as winds shifted. Shelters were set up and many residents were unable to return for a week. The Mississauga Fire Department eventually extinguished the fire and neutralized the chlorine in the tank car. The explosion, fire and largest evacuation in North America succeeded without loss of life. (Canadian Disasters 1985) The cause of the Brighton Train Fire in 1994 was when two young men placed a two metre section of steel rail onto the CN rail tracks in Brighton Ontario. A VIA rail passenger train hit the loose rail, which punctured a diesel saddle tank, ruptured three high voltage power cables and then the second fuel tank. The speeding train immediately caught fire. The engineer managed to stop the train east of Brighton and the passengers, with increasing fire and decreasing visibility, all passengers and crew managed to escape the burning cars. It took many hours to extinguish the fire and many anxious hours to determine that all passengers had in fact survived. The young men were apprehended, charged and convicted. (Canadian Disasters 2006)
Other Transportation Disasters Bus Crash in Les Eboulements In 1997 a tour bus on a scenic fall colour tour plunged over a guardrail and into a ravine in Les Eboulements, Quebec after its brakes failed. Forty-four passengers died. (Disaster! 1999) Cormier Village Hay Ride A Thanksgiving hay ride in Cormier Village, New Brunswick, ended up a tragedy for the extended McGraw and Leger families. Thirteen people died and forty-five were injured when a cargo of logs from a lumber fell onto the hay wagon. (Canadian Disasters 2013) The tragic death of seven members of the Phantoms, Bathurst, New Brunswick's high school basketball team and an adult supervisor devastated that town in 2008. The tragedy is one of many multiple fatality collisions involving flimsy stretch van vehicles. Many USA jurisdictions and some Canadian provinces are trying to ban these vehicles. A similar horrific crash, the Van Tragedy in Ontario involved the death of ten Peruvian itinerant farm workers whose stretch van was hit by a truck in 2012. The truck driver was also killed. (Canadian Disasters 2013) The Victoria Day Disaster in London, Ontario in 1881 took the lives of 181 people. An overcrowded ferry taking holiday celebrants on a tour of the calm Thames River capsized when the passengers all stood on one side of the boat to watch a race. Canadian Disasters 1985
USS Truxtun and USS Pollux Disaster in Newfoundland During World War II three U.S. Navy warships navigating at night without running lights ran aground onto the coast of Newfoundland during a bitter winter storm. Two of the ships could not reverse away from the rocks and began to break up from the action of heavy waves pummelling them. Sailors had great difficulty getting ashore and many drowned in the attempt. A few sailors from the Truxtun made it ashore and staggered to iron mine buildings near the community of St. Lawrence. Residents of St. Lawrence and Lawn eventually rescued 168 sailors from the two ships but 203 drowned or died from exposure. One of the survivors, Lanier Philips, experienced the first ever act of kindness from a white person when St. Lawrence resident Violet Pike took him into her home and nursed him to health. Philips later helped break the colour barrier in the United States Navy that prevented Black sailors from advancing. After the war the U.S. Navy built a hospital for the residents of Lawn and St. Lawrence out of appreciation for their efforts. Canadian Disasters 2013
Walkerton Water Tragedy Walkerton, Ontario was the site of a terrible E. coli poisoning of the town's drinking water in which seven residents died and hundreds were poisoned in 2000. E. coli 0157:H7 from a herd of cattle entered one of the town's wells during a spring flood. Regular chlorination treatments were not being undertaken properly and the untreated water caused serious illnesses and fatalities before its source was discovered. An inquest blamed the water treatment plant operator for not treating the water properly and hiding poor results and the Ontario Government for eliminating regular government testing of public water sources. Canadian Disasters 2013