Yes Emily

Yes Emily, girls can ride motorcycles!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

More Gales of November

Thanks Ron for finding this article in the Toronto Star about the gales on the Lakes in 1913... I guess Lightfoot didn't sing about it because it happened before his time.

Excerpt: "The 9th of November Gale: Death on the Great Lakes in 1913 Dirty weather had been blowing all day off Lake Superior and across the harbour in Marquette, Mich., as the steamer Henry B. Smith loaded a cargo of iron ore on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 9, 1913. Captain Charles Fox of the steamer Choctaw, loading nearby, saw that the Henry B. Smith had put out an extra line to hold the boat to the dock. But in the afternoon, Captain James Owen of the Henry B. Smith cast off and headed out into the storm — his hold full but his hatches, by some accounts, still unsecured. Fox watched the departure from the Choctaw. “He finished loading at about 4:30, left the dock, backed out into the harbour, turned around and went out into the lake,” Fox wrote later in a report to the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, for which he sailed. “At 5:20, he changed his course to what I should judge to be about north. At about 5:50, the mate called my attention to the way in which she was acting, I looked out and he appeared to be turning around. I do not think I ever saw a vessel roll heavier. After some little time they got her head to it again and we went to supper.” There was little else to tell. “When we came out from supper she was out of sight — it was snowing, which may have obstructed our view. “This was perhaps the last seen of the Henry B. Smith. With the terrific gale and tremendous sea, I am fully convinced she did not get 15 or 20 miles out of Marquette.” The ferocity of the gale that swallowed the Henry B. Smith stunned the most seasoned captains. It was a wind storm that sent 10 freighters, a barge and a lightship to the bottom, with many more wrecked on reefs or beaches. And it killed more than 250 men and women — consumed by the lakes or cast up, cold and lifeless, along the shorelines. Bodies washed ashore from the Wexford, which sank in Lake Huron northwest of Grand Bend (Bowling Green State University) But the storm has never worked its way into Canada’s consciousness, and does not even have a name on which everyone agrees. It often goes by the banal title The Great Storm of 1913, but sometimes it’s called the White Hurricane, because of the blinding snow that accompanied it. My father, who grew up in the 1920s in Tobermory, on the cusp of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, says the old-timers on the wharf who had lived through it called it the 9th of November Gale, although it was really a four-day storm. Perhaps a name is hard to assign because it was a disaster unique on the lakes. W.C. Iler of the steamer Crawford described his feeling of helplessness as the storm drove his ship relentlessly toward the shores of Lake Huron while he tried to fight back toward open water. “The sea was running so high and the wind so strong that we were not going ahead,” he reported later. The ship had lost both anchors in a desperate but vain attempt to manoeuvre in the tempest. “That happened at 1:10 a.m. on Monday morning, Nov. 10, both anchors gone, a blinding snowstorm and blowing 75 or 80 miles an hour from the north and getting down into a pocket at the end of the lake, and unable to turn around and head away from danger. I decided I would try to keep turning around until she went on the beach and then I would feel I had done my part and done all any man could do to save his ship.” Iler got lucky. The wind veered, then dropped enough to allow him to turn his ship back up the lake, into open water and safety. Other vessels never reached port. Some, like the Henry B. Smith, simply vanished. Eight freighters went down in Lake Huron. Two ships — the Henry B. Smith and the Leafield — sank in Lake Superior. A lightship (a boat that acts as a lighthouse) went to the bottom of Lake Erie. Although the sinking ships simply disappeared, with one horrifying exception, many of the crews did not. Dozens floated ashore — some in groups, some alone — wearing the inaptly named lifebelts: primitive devices made of cork slabs sewn into the pockets of canvas vests. They could do little to save sailors from drowning, or from dying of exposure in the November waters after being pummelled by an endless succession of waves 40 feet high. The exact number of dead is unknown. “I would put it over 267,” says Paul Carroll of Goderich, who has authored several books on the storm, including The Wexford: Elusive Shipwreck of the Great Storm, 1913. Carroll is the leading authority on the gale and one of the major sources for this ebook. There’s simply no way to tell just how many perished. Freighters often dropped off crew members and picked up others during their frequent stops up and down the lakes. The crew lists compiled by shipping companies’ head offices rapidly became out of date. Some of the bodies that washed ashore along the hundreds of kilometres of lakeshore were quietly buried in the rural areas where they were found, by farmers or landowners. Only this year, a house construction crew turned up the bones of a woman close to the shoreline just south of the Point Clark lighthouse, 15 kilometres south of Kincardine. Carroll wonders if she could have been one of the victims of the storm, buried where she washed up."


  1. Interesting article. You don't regularly see stories about life on these inland lakes except when you're in the area.

    Also interesting that your post date says yesterday though it didn't show up on my feed until Monday, late afternoon.

  2. The storms and related shipwrecks are always sadly fascinating to me. Thanks for another historical perspective.

  3. Karen:

    Thank you, you are a great teacher. I learned something new about the Great Storm of 1913 which is 100 years ago. Lucky that today we have better weather forecasting abilitites

    Riding the Wet Coast

  4. Karen, I just dropped by to wish you a Merry Christmas, and my wishes for happiness every day of the new year. 2013 was a tough year. 2014 will be better.

    All the best,