Fierce storms on the Great Lakes that claimed hundreds of lives, tsunamis, earthquakes, a landslide that wiped out an entire town, devastating forest fires, huge floods and paralyzing blizzards and ice storms; Canada has seen its share of deadly natural disasters.
As it turns out, however, the two deadliest natural disasters in Canadian history were also rarities here: a volcanic eruption and a massive hurricane.
Both these tragedies claimed several thousand lives, and curiously, took place in the same year — 1775. As far as we know, there was no alignment of the heavens or prophecy of Nostradamus that could explain why Canada was stricken. The two tragedies were unrelated and happened on opposite coasts. The Tseax Cone volcano (pronounced SEE-aks) erupted in north western British Columbia, spewing poisonous gas and molten lava, and more than 7,000 kilometres east, Newfoundland was battered by a monstrous hurricane.
Nisga'a native legends tell of how the "poisonous smoke" (volcanic gases) from the Tseax Cone volcano came without warning, filling their villages and killing many. An estimated 2,000 people perished and the Nass River, which the Nisga'a people depended on for fish, was smothered by lava flows.
The flows permanently changed the landscape and remain as visible evidence of the devastation wrought by the eruption. Today, Nisga'a Memorial Lava Beds Provincial Park commemorates the victims.
Yet even deadlier than the eruption of the Tseax Cone was the great hurricane that struck off Canada’s east coast that same year. Canada’s cold climate normally provides protection from hurricanes and tropical storms, so thousands of Newfoundland's fishing vessels and their hapless crews were caught off guard.
In early September, the furious storm devastated the island, drowning an estimated 4,000 people and sinking 1,000 vessels. Two British Royal Navy ships, stationed off Newfoundland to protect Britain’s fishing rights, were wrecked in the storm. Making it Canada’s worst natural disaster in terms of fatalities. The National Hurricane Center in the United States ranks it the seventh deadliest hurricane in Atlantic history.
While these two deadly natural disasters happened centuries ago, the still unfolding earthquake-tsunami catastrophe in Japan reminds us that mother nature at her most destructive can still overpower our sophisticated modern technology and engineering. We would be wise to apply caution in all our dealings with her.