The Worst Disasters in Canadian History

A monument to the victims of Swissair Flight 111, one of the worst disasters in Canadian History. Editorial credit: kevin brine /
A monument to the victims of Swissair Flight 111, one of the worst disasters in Canadian History. Editorial credit: kevin brine /

Throughout history, the world has experienced a number of deadly disasters. These events range from natural disasters to pandemic diseases. Canada has been no exception to this occurrence. This article takes a closer look at the top 5 deadliest recorded disasters that have ever happened in Canada. 

1. Spanish Flu – 50,000 

The Spanish Flu of 1918 ravaged Canada and to date is the worst disaster in the country's history. It is also referred to as the 1918 flu pandemic, and it lasted from January of 1918 until December of 1920. The disease not only affected the Canadian populace. This H1N1 influenza virus infected over 500 million individuals and killed between 3% and 5% of the world’s population. It is believed to have caused more deaths than the Black Plague. In Canada, an estimated 50,000 people died.

2. Newfoundland Hurricane Of 1775 – 4,000 

On September 9, 1775, a hurricane hit the island of Newfoundland, which makes up part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The communities along the coast relied on the fishing industry as their main economic activity. When the storm hit, it destroyed the vast majority of the fishing boats as well as 2 armed ships from the British Royal Navy. In addition, the winds and rains caused a storm surge of between 20 and 30 feet, flooding the shoreline. The Newfoundland Hurricane is the first one on record for Canada and its deadliest natural disaster. It caused at least 4,000 deaths.

3. Cascadia Earthquake Of 1700 – est. thousands

The third deadliest disaster to hit Canada was the Cascadia earthquake on January 26, 1700. This earthquake registered between 8.7 and 9.2 off the coast of British Columbia and as far south as present-day northern California. It was so strong that it caused a tsunami in Japan. Because written records were not common in North America at this time, most of the information surrounding this disaster has been estimated. Scientists have relied on Japanese records of the tsunami as well as tree ring studies from the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada. Additionally, oral stories told by the indigenous peoples throughout this area all refer to a destructive earthquake complete with coastal flooding. Exact numbers are unknown, but estimates suggest that at least several thousand individuals died during this disaster.

4. Halifax Explosion – 2,000 

On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in the Narrows strait between Halifax Harbour and Bedford Basin. The SS Imo, a Norwegian ship, steered into the SS Mont-Blanc, a French ship carrying explosives. The accident caused the cargo to explode. The explosion was so strong that it reached the town of Halifax, located in the province of Nova Scotia. It is recorded as the largest man-made explosion in the world to occur prior to the invention of nuclear weapons. The entire Richmond district was ruined, including buildings and trees. Additionally, the force caused a tsunami in Tuft’s Cove, killing the entire Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples. In total, approximately 2,000 people were killed.

5. Tseax Cone Eruption – 2,000 

The Tseax Cone volcano erupted sometime between 1668 and 1714. The resulting lava flow blocked the Tseax river, creating the Lava Lake. Written records of this event do not exist, however the Nisga’a tribe has an oral tradition which tells the story of the eruption. According to these stories, two villages were completely destroyed. The ash and carbon dioxide that were released killed approximately 2,000 people. This makes the Tseax Cone volcano eruption the worst geophysical disaster in Canada’s history.

The Deadliest Disasters In Canada

1Spanish fluPandemicCanada50,000 (estimate)1918 to 1919
2Newfoundland Hurricane of 1775HurricaneNewfoundland4,0001775
31700 Cascadia earthquakeEarthquakeBritish Columbialikely several thousand1700
4Halifax ExplosionExplosionNova Scotia2,0001917
5Tseax Cone eruptionVolcanoBritish Columbia2,000~1700
6RMS Empress of IrelandShipwreckQuebec1,0121914
7RMS AtlanticShipwreckNova Scotia5621873
8Swine fluPandemicCanada4282009 to 2010
10VioletShipwreckEngland300December 13, 1758
11Great Labrador Gale of 1885HurricaneNewfoundland300October 10, 1885
12SibylleShipwreckNova Scotia300September 11, 1834
13SS PacificShipwreckBritish Columbia2981875
14Air India Flight 182SabotageAtlantic Ocean268 Canadians (out of 329 total fatalities)1985
15Arrow Air Flight 1285AircrashNewfoundland2561985
16Great Lakes Storm of 1913StormOntario2501913
17HMS TribuneShipwreckNova Scotia2381797
18SS Anglo SaxonShipwreckNewfoundland2371863
19Swissair Flight 111AircrashNova Scotia2291998
20Nova Scotia Hurricane of 1873HurricaneNova Scotia223 (disputed)1873
21Matheson FireFireOntario2231916
22SS HungarianShipwreckNova Scotia2051860
23USS Pollux (AKS-2) and USS Truxtun (DD-229)ShipwreckNewfoundland2031942

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