1929 Newfoundland Tsunami

At 5:02 pm on November 18, 1929, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale occurred on the edge of the Grand Banks, about 265 km from Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. Earthquakes are rare on America’s east coast, and many people had never experienced one. Although people on the Burin Peninsula felt ground tremors for about 5 minutes, there was no serious damage. No one anticipated the tsunami that followed.

The earthquake triggered a series of large waves, which raced across the ocean at 140 km/hr, although they slowed to 40 km/hr when they hit shallower waters. The Burin Peninsula was unprepared; earthquakes were so rare that Newfoundland and Labrador did not even have a seismograph or tide gauge that could have warned of the tsunami. Sadly, the single telegraph line linking the Burin Peninsula with the rest of Newfoundland had been damaged during a recent storm, so there was no way to be warned of impending danger, nor of reporting the damages afterwards.

At about 7:30 pm, residents noticed a dramatic drop in sea level, followed by three successive waves, which raised the sea level 3-7 metres in most areas, but as much as 27 metres along narrow bays. The force of the waves destroyed a huge amount of property, including boats, wharves, salt cod stores, and fishing gear. It even lifted houses off of foundations. Twenty-eight people died, and hundreds more were left homeless and destitute at the start of the Great Depression.


Higgins, Jenny. 2007. The Tsunami of 1929. From the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website. A bibliography of items about the 1929 tsunami is also available at this site.


2 responses to “1929 Newfoundland Tsunami”

  1. Roy Mitton says:

    I have heard there is a folk song for which the band Great Big Sea got their name that told of this 1929 tsunami. Does any know if this is true? Where might I find the lyrics to the song? Perhaps, if lucky, a recording also?

    • Heather Sparling says:

      I’m afraid that I don’t know, but perhaps someone else reading your questions will have an answer for you!

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