AUDIO: THE GREAT STORM (Greg Stott, from Yon Sand-Beaten Shore, 1998) read by Paul Miller
In November, 1913 the last of the season's shipping was hurriedly making its way to the various home ports before the winter freeze up. A vast number of cargo and passenger ships plied the ever colder waters of the Great Lakes as winter fast approached. On November 7, 1913 there sprang up a storm which would be forever remembered and feared. The storm broke unparalleled havoc on the towns and cities in the Great Lakes basin, where power lines and telegraph and telephone lines snapped as the rain rapidly turned into sleet and then snow. Traffic was halted and trains slowed to a crawl. In Sarnia the blizzard which paralysed the city and surrounding countryside remained the hot topic of conversation and made the headlines of the various daily and weekly papers across the region.
Although November on Lake Huron was rarely ideal and violent storms where hardly unknown, most of these storms lasted for a matter of hours giving both ships and sailors a rough and sleepless passage. This storm was to be far different. When the storm began many ship captains moored their vessels in safe harbours or on the lake waiting and watching for a break in the storm. Finally it seemed likely that the storm would abate and that they could proceed. And so it was that dozens of ships began the fearful passage up or down the fury that was Lake Huron.
One of the ships caught in the stormy blast was the Northern Queen, which had passed by Sarnia and Port Huron at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, November 9th and proceeded up the lake, making a headway of some sixty miles, coming to a point opposite Sand Beach, Michigan. Desperate to escape the pounding waves, the Northern Queen attempted to make back toward the safety of Port Huron, but they were signalled by another ship further down the lake that the approach to the St. Clair was too dangerous. Turning again to the face into the storm the embattled ship attempted again to make its way northward and continued to make limited progress until the wee hours of Monday morning "when the rudder chains parted" some fifteen miles north of Port Franks, where the waves mercilessly pounded the ship into submission. As the First Mate, W.S. McDonald related "One wave broke in the aft cabin, and flooded the hole, to be followed shortly after by others which put out the fires and rendered the electric light apparatus useless." Having dropped anchor the ship managed to hold out for an hour until they could no longer hold and the ship began a helpless drift. With one lifeboat swept overboard and water seeping in through the badly damaged hull the helpless Northern Queen was smashed about for several hours while the terrified crew expected to be splintered upon a sandbar or rocky outcrop. At dawn on Monday morning they could make out the shoreline, but it was not until 7:00 a.m. that the ship was finally grounded, a short distance from shore at the Ausable mouth and the treacherous Stoney Point.