PAM PARDY | All Shook Up

*Originally published in our July 10-16, 2022 issue

I remember the stories told by my grandparents about the tsunami that stuck regions of the south coast back in 1929. 

Luckily, in the area that I’m from, the giant wave caused by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake simply washed up over the harbour and went straight out Backcove Beach and back out to sea. Other areas were not as lucky.

I’ve done interviews over the decades with seniors from surrounding communities who were not as blessed. Many who were children at the time remembered the wave and its aftermath. 28 people were killed, which is the greatest reported loss of life in any Canadian earthquake disaster, and some communities were all but washed away.

Besides the loss of lives and homes, 127,000 kilograms of salt cod were destroyed as were many fishing boats, wharfs, stages and other gear fishermen used to earn a living.

Perhaps it was listening to those first hand accounts that raised my caution level when it came to living near the sea, but reading that areas of the Burin Peninsula had recently experienced two earthquakes within a few days of one another heightened that awareness. 

One earthquake registered 4.6 and the second 3.6. Both occurred in the same area 300 kilometres south of Grand Bank. No damages were reported, as the magnitudes registered were low, but those two shake-ups followed another that registered 2.6 weeks earlier on May 31st.

Nature and its unpredictability on display yet again. While nowhere near tsunami proportions, I’ve bore witness to the unpredictability of the sea a time or two. From fog banks catching us off guard while out fishing to winds and waves that come out of nowhere, the sea is something to be wary of on the best day.

Not long ago, while walking on Middle Cove Beach, I strolled close to the ocean’s edge to get a picture. The sea was calm. Not far away, a young couple were walking along the water’s edge with a small child and their leashed pup as all  enjoyed the sun’s rays and the refreshingly cool water. I turned and walked back up the beach then heard the squeals. 

A good lesson

Out of nowhere a wave struck, knocking down the young family and, had the dog not been tethered, it quite likely would have washed out to sea. The child was bobbing when I looked back, and the father – who had also been knocked down –  made a quick grab and righted his lad. 

The water swirled around my toes, wetting an area that had been dry as a bone seconds earlier.

The family were wet and shocked. A good lesson for those who stood around snapping photos, scanning the horizon for whales and pondering the timing of the return of caplin to our shores.

The recreational fishery has begun. Beef bucket loads of flopping spawning fishes will soon be collected by the kiddies, whales watchers will gather on beaches around the province and eyes will be on the horizon on constant lookout for the spray from a hungry humpbacks or a wave of a diving tail – but be cautious and aware.

Let’s make sure there’s no tales to tell that are more newsworthy that a giant mammal sighting off our shores. No one wants to be all shook up over word that someone fluked into a rogue wave encounter instead of feeling the excitement and the thrill of a whale’s fluke sighting. Have fun, but be safe near the sea this summer.

Pam Pardy, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing [email protected]