Lives and Property Carried Away by the Tidal Wave

Notes from Earthquake Canada: On November 18, 1929, at 5:02 pm Newfoundland time, a major earthquake occurred approximately 250 kilometres south of Newfoundland along the southern edge of the Grand Banks. This magnitude 7.2 tremor was felt as far away as New York and Montreal. On land, damage due to earthquake vibrations was limited to Cape Breton Island where chimneys were overthrown or cracked and where some highways were blocked by minor landslides. A few aftershocks were felt in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland but caused no damage.

The earthquake triggered a large submarine slump (an estimated volume of 200 cubic kilometres of material was moved on the Laurentian slope) which ruptured 12 transatlantic cables in multiple places. The tsunami was recorded along the eastern seaboard as far south as South Carolina and across the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal.

Approximately 2-1/2 hours after the earthquake the tsunami struck the southern end of the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland as three main pulses, causing local sea levels to rise between 2 and 7 metres. At the heads of several of the long narrow bays on the Burin Peninsula the momentum of the tsunami carried water as high as 27 metres. This giant sea wave claimed a total of 28 lives – 27 drowned on the Burin peninsula and a young girl never recovered from her injuries and died in 1933. More than 40 local villages in southern Newfoundland were affected, where numerous homes, ships, businesses, livestock and fishing gear were destroyed. Also lost were more than 280,000 pounds of salt cod. Total property losses were estimated at more than $1 million 1929 dollars (estimated as nearly $20 million 2004 dollars). This represents Canada’s largest documented loss of life directly related to an earthquake (although oral traditions of First Nations people record that an entire coastal village was completely destroyed by the tsunami generated by the year 1700 magnitude 9 Cascadia earthquake off the coast of British Columbia).


Johnny Burke [1851-1930] – a St John’s balladeer, the “Bard of Prescott Street” was the son of a sealing captain. He worked as a poet, actor, singer, and playwright, and staged musical comedies. His songs reflect people and events of his time and sold as broadsheets for two to five cents per sheet.


Lives And Property Carried Away By The Tidal Wave (J. Burke)

Attention now good people all, and hark to what I say,
About this sad disaster that we record today,
That happened on the Western Coast around that rugged shore,
Where families were swept away to see their friends no more.

Last Monday week just after four they heard a rumbling noise,
But used to storms on that wild coast, it gave them no surprise;
When suddenly an earthquake shock, and then a tidal wave,
When six and twenty precious souls soon met a watery grave.

The tidal wave with fearful force, full fifteen feet or more,
The fishermen’s snug little homes were swept from off the shore;
Poor helpless women on that day all paralyzed with fear,
To save their homes and families and children they loved dear.

In parts of Burin on that coast, and also Lamaline,
The place is strewn with wreckage and scarce a house is seen;
Their boats and nets and stages, and all their fishing gear,
Was carried away by this tidal wave and soon did disappear.

And when the sad news reached the town and soon flashed o’er the wire,
They quickly sent the Meigle with food they did require;
No blankets, quilts or bedding could these poor creatures save,
Their homes and all their savings swept by this tidal wave.

Then Arlie Marks and Company, though strangers in our land,
The first to hold a concert and gave a helping hand;
To these poor souls on sore distress a fine donation gave,
Who suffered most severely by that fearful tidal wave.

Donations soon came pouring in from every one in town,
The poor man with his dollar did freely put it down;
The merchants grand donations gave to head the list did start,
Outsiders, friends and strangers gave with a generous heart.

Success in this world’s goods they’ll have, and God’s blessing fall for sure,
On those who give out freely to assist the hungry poor;
For Newfoundland was always known and always did its share,
And never let a Christian die when she had a crust to share.