All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Accidents and the Weather

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The Unpredictable: Storms and Tempests

Newfoundland's rocky and indented coastline has always been a hazard to coastal shipping. There was hardly a ship in the coastal service that had not been run aground one time or another during its history. Captains and crews risked their lives as a matter of course. They knew well that no one could control the weather, and that human skill, or the lack of it, could mean the difference between life and death. Passengers, too, undertook great risk in boarding vessels entirely lacking in modern navigational technology. Most had faith in their captains and crews, but being from Newfoundland and Labrador, they knew well that the sea was a frequent killer. Less serious misfortunes involved having to contend with seasickness, long delays, days spent stormbound in one harbour or another or jammed tight in the ice.

Ferocious winds, blinding snow and thick fog banks often prevented coastal boats from landing in the scheduled harbours. This resulted in delay of delivery of goods and services and could pose great hardship to communities which relied on the boats for their survival. The worst culprit was ice, even on the island's South Coast, which is normally considered ice-free. Many a ship was wrecked and many crew members' lives lost while battling the elements.

Click for video interviews
Accidents and the Weather Slideshow
Accidents and the Weather Slideshow
The S.S. Cabot Strait enclosed by ice, Spring 1948.
The S.S. Cabot Strait stuck in ice, Spring 1948. Fred Chancey Collection.
Vessels in St. John's Harbour in winter, pre 1901.
Vessels in ice in St. John's harbour, pre 1901. 03.05.068 Coll-137 Archives and Manuscripts, QEII, Memorial University.