Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.” Atlantic Canada’s Greatest Storms, by Dan Soucoup, delivers for those who wish to put the drama and tragedy of weather-induced disasters on the east coast into a historical perspective.
Soucoup’s publisher, Nimbus, describes the bookseller and publisher as “the author of numerous historical books about the Maritimes, including Failures and Fiascos, A Short History of Halifax, Railways of New Brunswick, and Know New Brunswick. His first book was Maritime Firsts, Historic Events, Inventions, and Achievements. The second edition is so popular that Amazon.ca sold out. Please support your local independent booksellers and order this one.
Greatest Storms chronicles the winter blizzards, floods, tornadoes, and even tsunamis that have struck from 1745’s Grand Armada Tragedy to the Ice Storm of 2017.
Think of the last significant storm you remember. It may depend on where you live, where you were, and perhaps, most importantly for your memory- a comparison with another familiar storm. The limits of our language often leave us with little left to say. I once learned that weather merely redistributes heat, cold, and wind in the global ecosystem. The book’s metrological details can become predictable and unnecessary for the untrained observer. But the author has inspired me to finally learn how to scientifically measure barometric pressure, as opposed to just feeling it drop in my ears.
Storms are less concerned with greatness than we need be, of victims, heroes, and survivors. The book begins with the 1745 French Armada, a loss of life, and ultimately French colonial ambitions, in most of New France.
Most touching is Dan’s depiction of Hurricane Juan. His journalistic prowess and evocative pathos are evident in his depiction of the plight of those who suffered the worst hurricane “in over one hundred years.” Perhaps a tribute to modern forecasting, communication, and construction. Although, still not as accurate as our lives and loves would wish. Sadly, yet remarkably, only five lives were reported lost among those a heroic ambulance attendant, and a driver killed by falling trees and a mother and two children lost in a horrific fire.
As an elementary school student, I remember a trip to see the Esquminac monument with our homeroom teacher where we learned of that tragedy and the horrific loss to so many families and the small community. The memorial is a haunting sculpture that honours the thirty-five brave fishers lost at sea off the nearby coast in 1959. Read David Adams Richards brilliant and the painful short story The Shannon for more evocative detail: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canada-150/fiction-story-of-canada-david-adams-richards/article35902894/ .
The Perfect Storm was a best-selling book, blockbuster film, and now the 19th chapter of Great Storms. The author notes, “the gale was among the largest ever recorded, extending from the Caribbean to high up along the Labrador coast.” The lives of six Glouster sword-fishers were portrayed admirably in Sebastian Junger’s novel. Hollywood took its usual liberties but brought tragedy, family and community loss to a broad audience.
Unlike the singular tragedy of Sebastian Junger’s epic Perfect Storm, it lacks a continuous narrative thread, and it sometimes segues abruptly from storm to storm. Empathy or sympathy are subjective. So much depends on our relationship to the people, pain, loss, and legacy of suffering, even one’s sense of place. It is hard to “square” tragic losses like The Newfoundland Tsunami, Escuminac, the Ocean Ranger, and, more recently, Hurricane Juan. More common, yet destructive, weather events such as snowstorms, rail derailments, and power-outages are less dramatic in comparison.
The sinking of the Ocean Ranger is still a horrible lesson in hubris. It was billed unsinkable as the largest deep-sea oil rig of its kind. Too big to fail like the Titanic. The author says, “a massive North Atlantic storm hurling out of the south would make it the site of the worst marine disaster in Canadian history since the Second World War.” Eighty-four lives were lost as the rig and lifeboat sunk, mainly Atlantic Canadians. A Royal Commission was critical of the rig’s design and construction, lack of sufficient training, and survival equipment.
Soucoups’s Greatest Storms reveals the tragic tension between storm and story, nature and narrative, fair and foul. The book is a captivating chronology of the tides, tempests, and snows that continue to blanket the beauty of the Atlantic. Reading this book is a firm reminder of nature’s callous power, the precariousness of life, family sacrifice, and community resilience.
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