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Escuminac Disaster
June 19-20, 1959 at Escuminac, New Brunswick, this tragic event unfolded...

Squire Remembers This Tragic Storm

On the day of June 19, 1959, fifty-four vessels sailed from Escuminac.

That night a freak storm prevented twenty-two of them from returning. During the gales and swamping wakes of the storm, twenty-two boats were lost to the sea. Thirty-five men and boys were drowned. Drifting their salmon nets on a calm bay, they were overtaken by a storm described as being, "two days and nights of terror".

This Memorial stands at the Escuminac wharf. The names of the boys and men lost that day are still fond in the memory of many.

To the memory of all the families, who suffered, on this tragic day. God Bless Their Souls.

Memorial Photo below...

Archie Martin


Lunenburg Progress Enterprise
June 24, 1959

32 Fishermen Are Missing When
Gales Hit New Brunswick Coast

Fifty fishing boats were caught in the worst storm disaster ever to hit the Gulf of St. Lawrence last week. Thirteen bodies have been recovered and nineteen have been officially listed as missing. It is feared, however, that the toll will be greater as the search continues in the smaller hamlets along the shore.

Besides the loss of life, the damage to fishing boats and gear will be heavy when waves up to fifty feet high rolled along the Northumberland Strait.

Most of the fishermen lost are from the Escuminac and Bay Ste. Anne [sic] and Baie Du Vin [sic] areas, and damage to property reaches south as far as Shediac where summer cottages were lashed by the heavy sea.

The salmon was running good and the fishermen hurried to reap a good catch. The storm was unexpected and caught the fleet on the fishing grounds with no time to take shelter.

In many cases, father and son were lost as well as brothers who operated boats together. Families of missing men have been on the shores watching hopefully for the return of their loved ones. The R.C.A.F. and R.C.M.P. were on the scene as soon as the storm subsided and are continuing the search.

The Red Cross moved in the area as soon as word of distress was received and established headquarters at Escuminac.

Stories of horror and heroism have been told in all quarters. Here is one of them :

ESCUMINAC, N.B. - "If we had gone out Friday night all the men in the family would have been wiped out," said small Albany Martin, 46 year-old my oncle from Baie Ste. Anne, N.B., fisherman looking around the Red Cross tent wearily.

He had returned from an early morning search of the shoreline near this disaster-stricken Northeastern New Brunswick community with two symbols of death - the side of a wheelhouse and a lobster crate.

He identified them positively as parts of a boat owned by his brother André, 31, reported missing after the worst storm in 35 years.

Albany's son, Alonzo, 22,my cousin was with André my uncle in the boat.

"If we can only find them, even if they are dead, that's all we can hope for," he said.

"Yes," agreed his brother-in-law, Roméo Martin, standing nearby. "If only we can find them."

Albany and Roméo were preparing to enter a search for their relatives and others lost in the storm.

Albany said it was the worst storm he had seen in 35 years. He himself had once been storm-wrecked on Tabusintac Island, about 20 miiles straight north of here in Miramichi Bay. Before running aground he spent two days adrift.
What does he think of fishing for a living?

"We have to do it or starve. It's all we know. Most of us have fished all our lives."

Albany had loaned 450 lobster pots and some nets to another fisherman Friday night. His loss is estimated at about $2,000. He and Roméo decided to stay in port that night.

The salmon fishermen usually go out between 4:30 and 7 p.m. and string their nets. They return between 6:30 and 10 in the morning.

They fish at about 13 fathoms (78) feet in Northumberland Strait and Miramichi Bay. Escuminac is the gathering point for small fishing boats, averaging 35 feet in length, for about 20 miles along the coast.

52 year-old fishermen and his nephew, 21 tell another story of the rescue of a father and his two sons.

We put out to sea earlier than usual Friday. The salmon were running good. Better than they had all week and we wanted to take advantage of it.
We wouldn't even have supper. We just took lunches with us and started out about four o'clock.

Things seemed to go all right until about 11 o'clock that night when it started to squall. It would have been a good thing if there had been rain because that quiets the sea.

It was the worst storm I've ever seen. I just can't explain it to you. Waves rose up like mountains all around us.
You have no idea how terrifying it was.

We did wonder how some of the others were making out but there wasn't much we could do. When it became too bad we reefed out sail and huddled in the cuddy (a cabin on the small boat). We were about 12 miles out.

We figured it was about 11 o'clock Saturday morning when we saw another boat overturned with three people hanging onto it.

They were Jack Doucet and his two boys. We took then off one at a time with a rope. The first time we threw them the line, one of the boys handed it to his brother. The next time the same youngster caught it and gave it to his father.

The seas were still high and we had to circle for a while before we could toss the rope a third time.

I think he thought we were going to leave him then and was pretty scared. We managed to get in position again though and finally got him aboard.

We'd run out of fuel for the stove in the cuddy and ripped off the tires we use for guards on the side of the boat. We cut them up and began using them for fuel to keep warm, especially the three soaking wet Doucets we'd dragged from the water.

They gave out a dandy heat.

We'd dumped our lunches into the beds earlier to use the pails for bailing. The salt water spoiled the food and we had to do without. We ran out of water too.

It wasn't long after we got the Doucets on when our boat nearly capsized. She reeled and the engine was hurled to the floor. I was afraid we'd find a hole punched in the bottom.

It must have been six o'clock that evening before we got the engine fixed up. We could have come in Saturday night. We could see the lights of Escuminac, but we were afraid to risk it, and stayed right in deep water until daylight.

We started in as soon as day broke and arrived about seven Sunday morning.

Picture of my cousins victor and Rafael lost at sea this was found in victor’s pocket went his body was found

Canadian Fisherman
August 1959

Vicious Storm Causes
Heavy Loss of Life

The heartfelt sympathy of Canadians from all walks of life went out to the small fishing communities on Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence who suffered so gravely from the unprecedented storm which buffeted and lashed the region late on Friday night in early June [ed: June 19-20].

The salmon season, which had already shown signs of being one of the best in years, had barely begun when the tragedy struck. Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip, who were on tour in another part of Canada at the time of the disaster, expressed their sympathy through Governor-General Massey to those who had suffered loss of lives and ships as a result of the vicious storm.

The center of fishing activity for the adjacent communities of Baie Ste. Anne, Bay du Vin and Hardwicke is Escuminac, a town of some 600 persons. The harbor of Escuminac at the mouth of the Miramichi is ideal. A 2000 foot, three-sided breakwater extends into Miramichi Bay and can accommodate up to 100 fishing craft within its arms. An 80-foot gap provides an entrance and exit to this well protected harbor.

Miramichi Bay is a favored spot for salmon fishing. Normally the season is June 1st, to July 3rd when there is a two week break to allow time for the salmon to go upstream to spawn, then once again the season resumes until closing on August 15th. The routine which the fishermen follow in the pursuit of their daily tasks is well established. The fishermen set out for the fishing grounds between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. so that they may pay out their nets, which extend for about a mile behind the boat, before nightfall. Both craft and nets drift with the tide all night long while the men take shelter in a small cuddy. When the dawn comes the hard work of hauling in the nets begins and does not cease until the entire catch is safely aboard.

This time honored routine was followed as usual on that fatal Friday in June. The 5:00 p.m. Atlantic Coast weather forecast did not anticipate the severity of the storm, which struck the Strait and the actual warning, was not issued until 8:45 p.m. from Halifax. By that time the flotilla of small fishing craft, which were not radio-equipped was already at sea. The storm struck with sudden severity and the calm sea soon became a boiling cauldron of mountainous seas 50 and 60-foot waves, which tossed the small boats about like matchwood. On shore the lonely hopeful vigil began for the relatives and friends while at sea the fishermen fought courageously through the night of terror. In the morning those on shore saw the grim evidence of tragedy as the smashed boats and fragments of fishing gear were washed up on shore. Hope for survivors slowly faded as those lucky enough to return told the story of the night before. Altogether 35 fishermen were listed as dead or missing leaving behind 19 widows and 76 fatherless children un-provided for.

The financial loss in the district was tremendous. When one realizes that the small 35 foot craft which the New Brunswick fisherman uses costs in the neighborhood of $2,000 and the hand-woven nets around $1,500 - the loss becomes more fully apparent. In addition to this, on the Thursday before the storm more than 12,000 lobster traps had been set in the region; many were lost. These traps cost $5 apiece. The fishing industry in this area is highly dependent, as in other regions, on the success of the "runs". If the runs are very good, as they were before the storm, an average of 30 salmon may be caught per trip. If not - well, another disappointment and more hardship. The normal life of these tightly knit communities is extremely rugged, and adverse conditions are commonplace.

A catastrophe of this magnitude makes it even more so.

A fund, which has been well supported, was organized to ease the distress of these communities. At the time of this writing the New Brunswick Fishermen's Disaster Fund is over $144,000 with contributions from all over Canada still coming in. The coal mining town of Springhill, N.S., itself the scene of a crippling disaster last year, sent two tons of food to aid the families of the 35 fishermen who were lost. So far more than 7 tons of food has been collected to aid the needy persons of the stricken communities.

The perils faced by men who earn their livelihood at sea are many but this thought does little to mitigate the sorrow the people of the Escuminac district will always feel for the men who lost their lives in the storm of 1959. 

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