What happened 50 years ago today?
50 years ago today, 100 fishermen took off from the Escuminac wharf on fifty-four vessels to fish for salmon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The sea was very choppy and there was fog, but this didn’t stop the hundred fishermen who wanted to catch some salmon. The fisherman were very excited because this was the richest salmon run that they have ever seen in this area in ten years. The fisherman went out a few miles, dropped their nets and drifted. They never expected what was going to happen next.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website says that on June 15, 1959, an easterly wave hit the northwest Caribbean, and the system kept moving northwest and developed a closed wind circulation at the east-central Gulf of Mexico on June 17th. The system moved very quickly and tornadoes were forming near Miami and West Palm Beach. After the system moved out of Florida, it strengthened into a category one hurricane and was headed for Canada.
The night of June 19, 1959, before the fishermen were able to bring in their salmon, the storm hit them with little warning. Some of the men didn’t have radios on their boats and some that did have radios, were not listening. Tragedy struck like a lightening bolt out of the sky and their nightmare began. Fifty-foot waves broke over their fishing boats and there was little that the fisherman could do, but try to survive
That night Thirty-five men and boys out of the hundred fishermen lost their lives. It took several days to recover the bodies. There was not one man that had life insurance policies for the nineteen widows that were left to grieve. A documentary on the CBC Digital Archives website that was broadcasted on November 25, 1975 interviewed the widow of William Chiasson who died that night along with their two sons. She was left to grieve and raise her other five children. There was only $90 left in William Chiasson’s pocketbook. She used the $90 to purchase a tombstone for the three of them.
Today, there is a memorial statue that is placed at the Escuminac wharf for the fishermen that died that night. You can visit The Aboriginal Nation of Quebec website to see all the names of the fishermen that lost their lives at sea on this tragic night.
Beginning on Friday, June 19, 2009 at 6:30 p.m., the survivors, the families of the fishermen lost at sea, and the general public will meet at Escuminac wharf to begin a weekend full of commemorative activities. There will be an opening ceremony, stories told about the night of June 19, 1959, and a commemorative sail out to sea for the survivors and the families of the victims.
On Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 2:00 p.m., there will be a bilingual mass, a light lunch at Bai Ste-Anne School, a French play by Astrid Gibbs, a film on the disaster that night, and an exhibit prepared by the children.
On Sunday, June 21, 2009 there will be a mass at Bay du Vin Anglican Church, a commemorative ceremony at the Escuminac wharf at 2:00 p.m., a Salmon Dinner at 5:00 p.m. for only those who have an invitation, and a the closing ceremony with a firework show.
You can view images from the tragedy courtesy of CBC Digital Archives that were broadcasted on June 20, 1959 at http://archives.cbc.ca/on_this_day/06/19/14788/
CBC Digital Archives Broadcasted on November 25, 1975 – http://archives.cbc.ca/on_this_day/06/19/14789/
NOAA – http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/tropical/rain/unnamed1959.html
Escuminac Wharf – http://www.escuminacwharf.com/index.html
The Aboriginal Nation of Quebec – http://autochtones.ca/portal/en/ArticleView.php?article_id=30