Saturday, November 15, 2008

A deadly autumn

Thursday's Toronto Star ran an excellent piece on the so-called Great Storm of 1913, widely thought to be the worst ever to hit the Great Lakes. Like the maelstroms that have sent the Edmund Fitzgerald and a number of other Great Lakes freighters to the bottom over the years, it hit in the infamous month of November, traditionally the worst month for weather on the lakes.

The beastly storm that raged from November 7-10, 1913 was notable not only for its awesome power but for the wide area it affected. In many ways, it was a classic autumn Great Lakes weather event: the result of a collision between an arctic cold front and warm air seeping up from the United States.

But when this deadly concoction finally exploded, none of the five lakes escaped its fury, though the upper lakes, Huron and Superior, suffered by far the most. During four days of ruthless pounding, no less than 250 sailors, many of whom came from small communities like Collingwood, Ontario, met their end that day, along with a number of freighters that were the pride of the Great Lakes fleet.

I touched on the Great Storm briefly in Lake Erie Stories. Though Erie escaped the worst of the nightmare, six crewmen from an American lightship off Point Abino, Ontario, never came home after those fateful days. The Point Abino lighthouse now stands in memory of the the tragedy (click here to read more about this architecturally rare building). Until it fell dark in the late 1980s, it also did what those brave men lost their lives doing -- marking a long rock shelf that juts out from the shore, posing a risk to vessels coming and going from Buffalo harbour.

To read the full Toronto Star piece, click here.

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