March 11, 1912
On March 11, 1912 an avalanche struck the mining community of Tilt Cove on the Baie Verte Peninsula. The avalanche struck two houses built at the head of the cove at the foot of a steep slope, one belonging to Mr. Francis Williams, manager of the Cape Copper Company, and the other belonging to a Mr. William Cunningham, JP, the telegrapher and customs officer.
William Cunningham’s daughter, Vera, was interviewed in 1996 – she was 95 at the time but vividly remembered life in Tilt Cove, and in particular the afternoon of March 11 1912. She recalled that the previous night, following a day of freezing rain a snow storm raged and this continued through the day. Her father came in for tea and said, prophetically, “this would be a great night for snow-sliding“.
Next door the Williams family was sitting down to tea, when a large avalanche swept down the slope and struck the Williams and Cunningham houses. The avalanche just glanced Doctor Smith’s house, which escaped with minor damage.
The Williams house was the most severely damaged, with the lower floor collapsing as the rear wall was staved in. The Cunningham house was swept off its foundation and Emily Day the family servant thrown across the kitchen and buried. She had three year-old Edward Cunningham in her arms and protected him against the weight of the snow. Unfortunately she was buried, jammed against the hot kitchen stove, by the time she was dug out, two hours later, she was very severely burnt. Edward was only slightly injured with minor burns. Her loving embrace had saved his life.
Emily survived but was badly hurt; she was sent to hospital in St. John’s but died on July 18. A headstone erected in her memory in the Anglican Cemetery on Forest Road, St. John’s reads:
“Emily Day, aged 29 years who died July 18, 1912 from injuries received while saving the life of a child in the Tilt Cove Avalanche. Greater Love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”
The rest of the family survived almost unscathed.
Mr. Williams and his 13-year-old son (James) were killed instantly. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported, “the little boy was found dead with bread still in his mouth“. Peter and Francis Sage the two servants in the Williams household were also killed. Mrs. Williams and her two daughters were rescued after three and a half hours of burial, without serious injury.
Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives is home to a number of photographs detailing life in the mining community of Tilt Cove can be found as well as occasional mining reports on the state and prospects for mining in Tilt Cove.
Recommended Web Sites: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/environment/avalanches.html
Recommended Reading: Killer Snow, Avalanches in Newfoundland by David Liverman., Flanker Press,St. John’s, 2007.