“The Gale, the Worst for Fifty Years”

Archival Moment

December 23, 1890

e048fce0203eef476bdd23b6560d31abThe Christmas Season, 1890, was a difficult time for many families throughout Newfoundland, the families were trying to recover as best they could from the loss of their fishing schooners or homes, lost or damaged in the “violence of the gale which swept over the country.”

Headlines in the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram on December 2, 1890 tried to convey how intense the storm was with headlines like “The Gale, the Worst for Fifty Years and A Night of Terror”

The newspaper reported:

“Its beginning last night will be memorable for the violence of the gale which swept over this section of country. The roar of the wind was something awful; it reached a pitch of sharpness that seemed to express a vengeful rage of destruction, and resembled a steamer letting off steam.

Hundreds of people were up all night guarding their property as best they might. The force of the wind may be understood when it is stated that it tore off slates from the roof of the church of England Cathedral and St. Andrew’s Church; and the iron railing which surmounts the Athenaeum was blown down.

From a house on Harvey Road, near the Parade Rink, where dwelt three families, the inmates no sooner escaped than the roof blew in.

Hundreds of people were up all night watching their domiciles and fearing the worst; and, in Quidi Vidi, pretty nearly the whole population were on the qui vive (alert).

The article went on to describe other particulars about the storm and the damage that it inflicted but it was not until December 23, 1890 that the full impact of the storm was realized.

J.W. Withers the Colonial Secretary in Newfoundland reported, based on “the local press and from returns forwarded from the districts that 49 fishing vessels with their cargo had been lost and another 39 schooners had been damaged.

Even more devastating to the families was the report of extensive damage done to 63 homes and 20 stores.

Reports from some communities were very particular:

“At Quidi Vidi widespread devastation was wreaked. Burton’s house, stores and flakes were levelled to the ground; Dunn’s house had its roof blown off; Power’s flakes and Pynn’s were laid flat, and Skifflngton had a boat lost.”

The Telegram was happy to report:

“The instances enumerated are only a few of the havoc wrought in town and country, but the happiest feature in the tale of general wreck and ruin is that no loss of life is to be deplored.”

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives GN 1.3A  File 3, 1890 contains a detailed inventory of vessels and schooners, their community of origin and vessel name lost and damaged by the December Gale of 1890.