Canada’s east coast was originally of interest to Europeans in no small part due to its fish. At first, European fishermen travelled to Newfoundland and other parts of eastern Canada during the summer, returning to Europe with salted fish in the autumn. Later, the fisherman settled permanently in Canada, exporting their salted wares overseas. With fishing, however, came many marine disasters, as small fishing vessels were sometimes caught unaware by storms. Although the number of deaths in each incident is relatively small compared to the losses sustained in many mining disasters, the losses were frequent and constant.

Of course, fishing disasters are not the only kind of marine disaster to be commemorated in song. Passenger ships, such as The Atlantic, also sank. Although there are far fewer examples of passenger ships that sank compared with fishing vessels, passenger ship disasters typically resulted in far greater casualties.

We also include the Ocean Ranger disaster in this category. Although it was an oil platform rather than a boat, it was a marine structure. Its sinking killed 84 people.

There are hundreds of marine disaster songs from Atlantic Canada. To constrain the project and make it more manageable, we prioritized events for which we had more than one song, although you will find plenty of events with only a single associated song on this site. We also decided not to include songs about deliberate combat or murder. Therefore, you will not find any of the many songs about ships lost during wars. It is sometimes difficult, however, to draw the line between “war” songs and “non-war” songs. For example, should we include songs about fishing vessels that went missing during WWII and which were presumably torpedoed, even though we actually have no evidence that that is the case? Should we include the numerous songs about The Caribou, a civilian passenger ferry travelling between Cape Breton and Newfoundland that was torpedoed? We have had to draw what has sometimes been an arbitrary line between songs to include and songs to exclude.

Of course, there are dozens and dozens of other maritime disaster songs. If you know of any that aren’t listed here, please let us know!