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In 1929, a tidal wave (tsunami) devestated the Burin Peninsula on the south coast of Newfoundland. Over 40 communities were struck, affecting 800 families. Here is the list of over 4000 people - husbands, wives and children - from the records of The Burin Relief Committee, and an itemized lsit of their material losses.
In 1996, I began researching the Newfoundland Tidal Wave (tsunami) of 1929, for a book to be published in the year of the seventieth anniversary of the event. It was my intent to publish a collection of stories on specific events through interviews with victims and survivors who had first-hand knowledge of the event.
Unfortunately, two other projects interrupted my research. First of all, I found out that my hometown was planning a reunion for the Cabot 500 Year, so I turned my hand at writing a short history on the town, published as The Buchans Miners in 1997. The following year I was hired by the Seniors Resource Centre in St. John's to spend a year interviewing seniors throughout our province, and my tidal wave research once again had to be rescheduled. However, when on the Burin Peninsula, I indulged this interest by seeking out seniors with experiences in the 1929 catastrophe. As a result, five tidal wave recollections are included in the Seniors Resource Centre's publication Not Too Long Ago.
This year, I turned once again to the tidal wave documents in the Provincial Archives at the Colonial Building in St. John's, I have been very Fortunate to have a full-time researcher in the person of Vera McDonald who diligently pored over the 24 boxes of documents from the South Coast Disaster Committee, especially those containing statutory declarations of statements of damage for compensation. It is only in going through those documents that one can today, seventy years later, get an idea of the scope and breadth of the devastation of the Burin Peninsula.
Mrs. McDonald and I wish to thank the staff of the Provincial Archives for their prompt attention to all our requests for documents and assistance.
In order to qualify for compensation, vicims were required to complete statutory declarations, listing the details of their personal circumstances. Interestingly, these documents also listed the name, age and occupation of the head of each household, the name and age of the spouse, and the names and ages of children and extended family. Except where noted, the occupation of the head of the household was most likely "fisherman." In reading the documents, the estimate of damage is in the left column, and the amount compensated in the right column.
I am presenting this data in book form, to be at my fingertips in preparing for interviews, and to make it available to students and teachers, genealogists and historians, the general reading public interested in Newfoundland histor-y, and to heritage and tourism associations developing projects based on tidal wave events and themes. Eventually, the data will be published at www.flankerpress,com.
This book will serve as my basic source of data for developing interview questionnaires, since it can be used to reconstruct the distribution of damage within a community, and to jog the memories of our elders who have first-hand knowledge of the event.
I was not able to meet my goal to write a book of stories this year. Therefore, this is not a book of stories, but a book of lists. Do not look for perfection in the information in the lists. Often there is either information missing or the arithmetic in the columns does not add up correctly. In several instances, comparing the ages of individuals with their ages as listed in the 1921 Census begs the following conclusion: One of the documents is incorrect. In some cases, the claimant received more than the amount estimated. In many households there are no children listed, but more likely than not, there were children present. In other cases there were two statutory declarations from the same person with conflicting information, i.e., ages of dependents.
It is my hope that this document will generate considerable discusssion, and I encourage any reader who discovers errors of omission or fact to contact me for any future editions. In addition, I encourage family members to document their relatives' first-hand accounts of the tidal wave,and contact the author for possible interviews. My address is P 0 Box 2522, Station C, St. John's, NF, Canada AIC 6KI. Telephone (709) 739- 4477. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
It is my intent to write and publish a series of books on the tidal wave of 1929. Anyone who has written on the subject is encouraged to contact the publisher at email@example.com
About the Author
Garry Cranford is president of Flanker Press Ltd. and is author or co-author of four books and editor of three other. He is best known for his history of the knockabout schooner Norma & Gladys, Newfoundland Schooner.