Escuminac is located on the south shore of Miramichi Bay, the community is several kilometres west of Point Escuminac, the southeastern limit of the bay. Escuminac was originally an Irish and English settlement of six families, but outward emigration and the prevalence of French speakers in the immediate area has changed its composition somewhat. A small two-room English school was closed in 1979.
Canada’s largest inshore fishing vessel harbour is home to the local fishing fleet. Escuminac Industries include two fish processing and freezing plants and a boat building facility. One of Canada’s important herring spawning grounds is located beside Point Escuminac.
Escuminac and surrounding fishing villages, especially Baie Ste. Anne, Hardwicke and Bay du Vin were the site of a tragedy on June 19 and June 20, 1959, when a sudden storm caused a loss of thirty-five fishermen from the area. It is called the Escuminac Disaster.
The Escuminac hurricane was considered the worst fishing-related disaster in New Brunswick in 100 years. It occurred due to the extratropical remnants of an Atlantic hurricane. The storm was the third tropical cyclone and first hurricane of the 1959 Atlantic hurricane season, and developed from a tropical wave in the central Gulf of Mexico on June 18. It headed rapidly northeastward and struck Florida later that day. Shortly after entering the Atlantic Ocean, it strengthened into a tropical storm later on June 18. By the following day, it had strengthened into a hurricane. However, it transitioned into an extratropical cyclone about six hours later. The remnants struck Atlantic Canada dissipating on June 21.
After becoming extratropical, the storm caused significant effects in Atlantic Canada. Along the coast of New Brunswick, the storm produced 49 ft (15 m) waves that destroyed several boats, including 22 over open waters between Point Escuminac and Richibucto. Two bodies washed ashore in the latter city, and eleven bodies were eventually discovered. About one-third of the salmon boats in Miramichi were destroyed.
Across New Brunswick, the storm disrupted communications near the coast. Along the coasts of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, high waves destroyed cottages and forced some families to evacuate. The former hurricane produced strong winds in the region, peaking at 75 mph (120 km/h), and its passage was accompanied by moderate rainfall, peaking at 4.29 in (109 mm) in Nova Scotia. There, many lobster cages were destroyed, and boats were removed from their moorings. In Prince Edward Island, up to 50% of lobster traps were destroyed or missing, including 5,000 destroyed traps near Souris.
As with New Brunswick, several boats were destroyed or washed ashore, and damage in the province was estimated at $750,000. A total of 35 people were killed between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, mostly fishermen. As a result, the Escuminac Disaster, as it came to be known, became the deadliest work-related disaster in New Brunswick. The Minister of Fisheries considered the event as “the worst disaster to hit a Canadian fishing fleet in about 100 years.”
In the days after the storm, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Mounted Police operated search and rescue missions, while families waited on the beach. The Canadian Red Cross set up headquarters in Escuminac to assist the victims. Due to storm fatalities, 24 adults became widows, and 83 children lost a father. As a result, the New Brunswick Fishermen’s Disaster Fund was created to assist the families. The fund raised $400,000 in a few months from donations from throughout Canada, as well as Pope John XXIII and Queen Elizabeth II, the latter who was on a tour of the country at the time.
A monument commemorating the tragedy sits at the head of the harbour near the Escuminac wharf. The commemorative sculptured statue of three fishermen is by well-known New Brunswick artist Claude Roussel.
Lord Beaverbrook, one of New Brunswick’s greatest benefactors, commissioned the work of art for the community’s 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.
The Canadian Encyclopedia
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