Situated on the south shore of Miramichi Bay, Escuminac lies several kilometers west of Point Escuminac, the bay’s southeastern boundary. Originally home to six Irish and English families, the community’s composition has shifted over time due to outward migration and an influx of French speakers. A small two-room English school closed its doors in 1979.
The local fishing fleet resides in Canada’s largest inshore fishing vessel harbor, which is also home to Escuminac’s main industries: two fish processing and freezing plants and a boat-building facility. One of Canada’s critical herring spawning grounds is situated near Point Escuminac.
On June 19 and 20, 1959, the Escuminac Disaster took place in Escuminac and surrounding fishing villages, such as Baie Ste. Anne, Hardwicke, and Bay du Vin, when a sudden storm claimed the lives of 35 fishermen. The hurricane, resulting from the extratropical remnants of an Atlantic hurricane, was the most severe fishing-related catastrophe in New Brunswick in a century.
The storm, the third tropical cyclone and first hurricane of the 1959 Atlantic hurricane season, developed from a tropical wave in the central Gulf of Mexico on June 18. It quickly moved northeastward, striking Florida later that day. After entering the Atlantic Ocean, it intensified into a tropical storm and eventually a hurricane on June 19. However, it transitioned into an extratropical cyclone roughly six hours later, with its remnants impacting Atlantic Canada before dissipating on June 21.
After transitioning into an extratropical storm, the system had significant impacts on Atlantic Canada. Along New Brunswick’s coast, the storm generated 49 ft (15 m) waves that destroyed numerous boats, including 22 in open waters between Point Escuminac and Richibucto. Two bodies washed ashore in Richibucto, and eleven were eventually recovered. Approximately one-third of the salmon boats in Miramichi were lost.
Throughout New Brunswick, coastal communication was disrupted. High waves along the shores of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island damaged cottages and forced some families to evacuate. The storm brought strong winds, peaking at 75 mph (120 km/h), and moderate rainfall, with a maximum of 4.29 in (109 mm) in Nova Scotia. Many lobster cages were destroyed, and boats were unmoored in the region. In Prince Edward Island, up to 50% of lobster traps were damaged or lost, including 5,000 near Souris.
With similar outcomes as in New Brunswick, several boats were destroyed or washed ashore in Prince Edward Island, where damage was estimated at $750,000. In total, 35 people, primarily fishermen, lost their lives between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Consequently, the Escuminac Disaster became the deadliest work-related disaster in New Brunswick, and the Minister of Fisheries described it as “the worst disaster to hit a Canadian fishing fleet in about 100 years.”
In the aftermath of the storm, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Mounted Police conducted search and rescue missions while families awaited news on the beach. The Canadian Red Cross established a headquarters in Escuminac to assist victims. The storm left 24 widows and 83 children without fathers. In response, the New Brunswick Fishermen’s Disaster Fund was created to support affected families. The fund raised $400,000 within months, receiving donations from across Canada and notable figures like Pope John XXIII and Queen Elizabeth II, who was touring 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.
This post has already been read 3420 times!