New Brunswick

Escuminac disaster survivor remembers fateful day 60 years ago

Aldore McIntyre had just turned 17 when he went out on a fishing boat with his father and younger brother the day in 1959 a hurricane devastated the small port of Escuminac, N.B. The McIntyres survived, but 35 people died.

'I still had goose pimples run all up my arms. I think about it here almost every day'

Ceremonies were held Sunday to mark this week's 60th anniversary of the hurricane in Escuminac, N.B., that killed 35 people. (Marielle Guimond/Radio-Canada)

Aldore McIntyre had just turned 17 when he went out on a fishing boat with his father and younger brother the day a hurricane devastated the small port of Escuminac, N.B.

"For many years I still had goose pimples run all up my arms," MacIntyre said. "I think about it here almost every day."

The three of them survived the disaster on June 19, 1959. Thirty-five friends and neighbours did not.

"It had been giving high winds all week and what happened is that it wasn't supposed to come into the Miramichi Bay, it was supposed … to keep on the coast and go in toward Newfoundland."

Remembering the storm

The fish were plentiful that week, but the Baie-Sainte-Anne man remembers how the weather kept many fishermen ashore all week.

Then Friday came and was a beautiful day, he said, and almost everyone from the poor fishing community decided to go out.

Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of the storm that sank 22 fishing boats and took the lives of 35 men off the small port of Escuminac. (CBC)

The McIntyre men got in their boat and headed out, casting salmon nets and placing lobster pots and fishing for cod while they waited.

"However, my father, during that time while he was cleaning the fish for us, the cod fish for us, got suspicious that … something terrible was going to happen," McIntyre said.

The Escuminac disaster

48 years ago
Duration 18:32
A vicious hurricane strikes the Gulf of St. Lawrence, killing 35 and devastating the town of Escuminac.

His father noticed the tides were moving quickly and that every big fish they caught that day had a sandstone in it.

Winds picked up as the evening progressed.

"Thinking about it, he said, 'There's something different,' he said, 'and I'm not going to stay here,'" Aldore remembered.

They decided to move further away from shore, and went over to the nearby fishing boat of Jean-Louis, Jeffrey and Lionel Richard. They told them they weren't planning to stay in the area.

The Richards said they would ride it out. None of them survived.

As they got further out, their boat started taking on water and the McIntyres decided to head back to the wharf.

Aldore remembers they pulled into the wharf at around 1:30 a.m. They didn't have a way of getting home so the three decided to sleep in the cabin of the boat.

"As soon as we stepped on the wharf to tie the boat, dad said, 'There wouldn't be a lot of people will not make it tonight.'"

The next morning

In the morning, the men could hear the sound of other boats outside.

"What sticks in my mind is that my cousin, you could hear him praying as the wind was pushing his voice to us … praying to the Virgin Mary to put his feet on the wharf. And he made it in."

No McIntyres drowned that night, but Aldore recalls many of his close friends who did.

The morning after, he saw people tied to masts amid the wreckage. Weeks later, they brought up a body in their nets.

Aldore McIntyre joined the Canadian Armed Forces a few years after the Escuminac disaster. (Submitted by Aldore McIntyre)

McIntyre left the life of a fisherman a few years later and joined the Canadian Forces. After 35 years, he retired and opened Escuminac Beach and Family Park campground, which he and his family still run.

"This is where I came, my little heaven," he said.

McIntyre and other survivors, along with families of the victims, will gather this weekend in a celebration of life and remembrance of those lives lost.

After 60 years, the 77-year-old said there are not many left.

Church services will be held Sunday morning at the surrounding communities, followed by a celebration of life with food and music at the wharf. There will be a memorial sail for the families of those lost.

McIntyre said it still shakes him up to think about that fateful day, but he has no regrets.

"Life was great. I had a great life. Maybe, maybe the disaster has changed my course of life. I would probably say that's what it did."