CBC Digital Archives

The Grand Banks earthquake and tsunami

Beneath our feet, Canada is constantly atremble. Earthquakes shake the country about 2,500 times per year, most too small to feel. But occasionally, and without warning, the earth's crust below Canada buckles and spasms to frightening effect. More dangerous are the tsunamis that such quakes can cause. CBC Archives looks back at notable Canadian quakes, fears about "the big one" predicted for the West Coast and scientists' efforts to better understand the threat from below.

On Nov. 18, 1929, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rumbled through the Grand Banks off southern Newfoundland. At first, the damage seemed relatively insignificant -- small landslides flooded a few highways and houses sustained small structural fractures. But two-and-a-half hours later, a 27-metre high tsunami, triggered by the earthquake, struck the Burin Peninsula. Twenty-nine people perished, houses and fishing boats were swept out to sea and 48 kilometres of coastline sat in ruins, as described in this CBC Radio retrospective. 
• The epicentre of the earthquake was situated at 44.5°N, 56.3°W. The effects of the earthquake and tsunami were felt far and wide. Tremors were observed in New York and Montreal; smaller aftereffects of the tsunami were experienced along the eastern seaboard and across the ocean in Portugal.
• As a result of this 1929 tsunami, 27 people drowned in the Burin Peninsula and one individual drowned in Cape Breton, N.S. One girl from the Burin Peninsula died in 1933, never having fully recovered from injuries sustained in the disaster.

• At the time of the earthquake, Newfoundland had not yet joined Confederation.
• Property losses totaled $1 million (approximately $20 million in 2004 dollars). (Source: Natural Resources Canada)
• As heard in this clip, all lines of communication were cut following the tsunami. Four days passed before word of the disaster reached Halifax. As soon as news arrived, the government and the Red Cross dispatched doctors, nurses and relief aid.

• On Nov. 23, 1929, the Globe and Mail published thrilling reports of survivor stories. Captain W.H. Hollett of Burin told the newspaper, "I rushed out to see what was happening, when I saw the harbour filled with houses and wreckage. The whole thing happened so suddenly that one hardly realized what happened. (continued...)

(...continued) The store of Hon. G. A. Bartlett, which was 60 feet long by 40 feet wide, was lifted from its concrete foundation and carried inland for a distance of a quarter of a mile. The store was stocked with winter's provisions and supplies, yet not a thing was damaged."

Tsunami (which is pronounced 'tzu-nah-mee') is a Japanese word meaning "harbour wave." A tsunami, often misnamed tidal wave, is a series of long waves on the surface of the sea. Earthquakes beneath the ocean, volcanic eruptions, or landslides often trigger tsunamis, which travel at a rapid velocity.
Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: April 25, 1977
Host: Maxine Crook
Panellist: Allan Anderson, Betty Tomlinson
Duration: 13:17

Last updated: November 19, 2013

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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