The worst natural disasters in Canadian history

The news came out yesterday that the wildfires in Alberta that devastated the town of Fort McMurray earlier this year was Canada’s worst natural disaster ever. Well, in terms of costs anyway. The announcement came from the insurance industry, estimating losses to be over 3.5 billion Canadian dollars.

The fires forced nearly 90,000 people to flee their homes for weeks and destroyed roughly 2,400 houses and other buildings in Wood Buffalo.

“This wildfire, and the damage it caused, is more alarming evidence that extreme weather events have increased in both frequency and severity in Canada,” said Don Forgeron, President and CEO, Insurance Bureau of Canada.

That got the Yackler newsroom talking. What were Canada’s other most devastating natural disasters? The flooding in Alberta a few years ago and Quebec’s ice storm of the late nineties immediately came to mind. We decided to look back through history to find the worst of the worst.

Canada’s worst natural disasters ever

1775 – The Tseax Cone volcano erupted in British Columbia. According to Canadian Geographic, native legends tell of how the “poisonous smoke” (volcanic gases) from the volcano killing as estimated 2,000 people. The Nass River, which the local tribes depended on for fish, was smothered by the lava flows.

1775 – Also according to Canadian Geographic, that same year saw one of the worst hurricanes in Atlantic history strike Newfoundland. The storm came in September of 1775, wreaking havoc on the island, drowning approximately 4,000 people and sinking an estimated 1,000 ships and boats.

1825 – The great Miramichi fire devastated forests and communities throughout much of northern New Brunswick in October of that year. One third of the homes in Fredericton were destroyed and hundreds of people lost their lives in the surrounding towns. The fire is ranked among the three largest forest fires ever recorded in North America.

1873 – The Nova Scotia hurricane of 1873 struck in August. The deadly storm destroyed 1,200 boats and 900 buildings, and killed an estimated 500 people. Effects of the hurricane were also felt in Newfoundland where a further 100 people lost their lives from high winds and floods.

1903 – The Frank Slide was a rockslide that buried part of the mining town of Frank, Alberta in April of 1903. (Although Alberta wasn’t officially a province until 1905.) At approximately 4:00 am on April 29th, between 80 and 90 million tons of limestone rock slid down Turtle Mountain burying the eastern part of Frank, the CP Railway line and the town’s coal mine. The Frank Slide was one of the biggest landslides in Canadian history, and it remains the deadliest. Between 70 and 90 people were killed, most of whom still remain buried in the rubble.

1910 – Canada’s worst avalanche disaster occurred just a few years after the Frank Slide. The Rogers Pass Avalanche killed 62 men who were clearing a rail line near the peak of the Rogers Pass through the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia. Illustrating how quickly the avalanche struck without warning, when the bodies were recovered, many of the dead were found standing upright, frozen in position.

1912 – On June 30th of 1912, the Regina Cyclone devastated the town of Regina Saskatchewan. Killing 28 people, it is the deadliest tornado to ever strike in Canada. Hundreds of people were injured, and thousands were left homeless. It took the city over two years to rebuild and a decade to pay for the damages.

1954 – While it is rare that hurricanes affect southern Ontario and Toronto, in 1954 Hurricane Hazel travelled from the Caribbean across the US only to stall over the GTA. The city received over 90mm of rain in three hours, causing the surrounding rivers and streams, particularly the Humber River to overflow. Flash flooding resulted in 81 deaths and left roughly 4,000 families homeless. Damages are estimated at well over one hundred million dollars.

1998 – In January of ’98, Quebec, Ontario and some north eastern States were struck by the Great Ice Storm. Layers and layers of freezing rain coated trees, electrical wires and towers, and pretty much everything in thick, heavy built-up ice. Under the weight of the ice, wires snapped, branches fell, and towers collapsed. The ice storm is blamed for 35 deaths, and millions of people were plunged into darkness for weeks due to the damage to the power grid. (My parents were in the so-called Triangle of Darkness south of Montreal and stayed in their house for over three weeks without power.)

2011 – In May of 2011, a large wildfire burned through the town of Slave Lake, Alberta and surrounding areas. The Slave Lake Wildfires forced the evacuation of the town’s 7,000 residents, destroyed 374 buildings and caused damages estimated at $750 million.

2013 – Alberta experienced heavy rainfall in June of 2013 that caused the most catastrophic flooding in the province’s history. Numerous rivers overflowed their banks and many communities were evacuated. Five people were killed in the floods, and over 100,000 were forced to flee their homes. Damages were estimated to be in the billions of dollars, making the 2013 Alberta floods – until this week – the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

Toronto also experienced massive flooding in 2013. In July of that year, heavy rains and flash floods caused nearly a billion dollars of damage in the GTA.

Mercifully, despite the fact that this country spans from sea to sea, we have yet to be struck by inland tornados carrying sharks.

Are you prepared for disaster to strike? The Canadian government has created a checklist of supplies and information to keep handy in case of sudden emergencies.

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