ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 1951, 2 DAYS BEFORE THE WINTER SOLSTICE AND JUST 6 DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, A SIGNIFICANT WINTER STORM CROSSED THE GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE AND ON TO THE WEST COAST OF NEWFOUNDLAND.

HURRICANE FORCE WINDS WOULD GENERATE A STORM SURGE AND PUSH IT DEEP INTO BAY ST. GEORGE FLOODING THE TOWN OF STEPHENVILLE CROSSING.    

On December 19, 1951, I was 6 years old. All I remember from that day is hanging on to my mother’s hand as we walked quickly past my grandfathers house, on our way to higher ground. My other hand was hanging on to my sister, as we headed toward our destination, the Stephenville Crossing Cottage Hospital. The hospital was located on a hill and away from the flood waters.

It was a damp and windy day. I also recall someone trying their best to row a dory in the ditch between the railway track and West Street, where the water had already started to cross the road. The very windy conditions made it look next to impossible.

Harry’s River, Bottom Brook and Southwest Brook are 3 significant salmon rivers on the west coast of Newfoundland. 200 years ago, large numbers of salmon has to pass through the gut to enter these rivers. The abundance of salmon was the big attraction to the first livyers.

Consequently, the Town of Stephenville Crossing had it’s beginnings at the Main Gut, an opening in a long sand and gravel bar known as a barachois. The barachois was formed by the sediments of Harry’s River and the currents in the inner bay.

In the Google Earth Photo below, you can very clearly see that Harry’s River produces a lot of sediment. You can also see how the river currents and the ocean currents shape the land in the delta area.

Stephenville Crossing, Dec 19, 1951

“A severe storm at Stephenville Crossing washed out the rail bed and 15 telegraph poles were blown down. The train station was also flooded along with the Avalon Telephone exchange. The rail line was closed for three days. Over 600 people were evacuated. West Street was under 1.2 m of water. Winds of 110 miles per hour were recorded. The Minister from St. John’s visited the area and decided it would be necessary to build a breakwater 3-5 miles long. Damage was also reported at Summerside, Bay of Islands, where George Ruth lost his fishing stores and boat. A sawmill at Summerside was also destroyed, and many fishermen lost boats and gear. This was reported as the worst storm since since the Burin tidal wave. The storm washed thousands of lobsters ashore.”

Source: Western Star, Dec 28, 1951

Most of the barachois is less than 5 meters above sea level, which makes the area vulnerable to a storm surge. Winds of 180 kilometers per hour equals 95 knots.

Winds in excess of 64 knots are classed as hurricane force (Force 12 on the Beaufort scale).

It is reasonable to assume that the winds on December 19, 1951 were so strong that they pushed and squeezed the waters of Bay St. George into less and less space, forcing the water levels to rise in the inner bay. This would suggest Southwest winds forcing the water into the bay and onshore at Stephenville Crossing. 

The day after on West Street near Pleasant Street.

Thursday, December 20, 1951

The temperature on Wednesday was warm, at least 50 celsius. Overnight the temperature dropped to at least -100 celsius, freezing the high water in place.

The above photo, near the corner of West Street and Pleasant Street includes my grandfather’s house that I walked by yesterday (the 1 ½ story).

Thursday, December 20, 1951

The above photo, also near the corner of West Street and Pleasant Street includes the home of William Webb Sr. and the car of William Webb Jr.

You are looking south on West Street (towards the gut) near Pleasant Street. For those of you who may remember, the houses on the right, that are easily identified, starting with the closest are;

Jack McFatridge

Martin Nolan

Bertha Nardini

Roy Adams

James Curnew

 With Roy Abbott on the left side.

This is the street that I walked with my mother and sister just the day before.

Friday, December 21, 1951

There are news reports:

  • that the water levels peaked on Wednesday

  • that Six families at Sandy Point were rescued after being trapped on the second floor of their houses

  • that a family at Stephenville Crossing was rescued with a dory

  • that the railway station at Stephenville Crossing was flooded

  • that the manager of the Avalon Telephone Company stayed on the job, despite the flood

  • that flooding was reported on the whole of the Port Au Port peninsular

  • that the Port au Port peninsular was, for a brief time, an island an island, when the isthmus was flooded

  • that the water levels in some parts of the bay reached 14 feet above sea level

Friday, December 28, 1951

There are news reports:

  • that the worst weather in 20 years was experienced by the crew of the S.S Northern Ranger, after riding out one of the worst storms on December 19th.

  • that the people of Stephenville Crossing spent christmas cleaning up, working day and night clearing debris. They were assisted by government workers as well as United States Air Force personnel from the base at Stephenville.

  • that the storm of December 19th drove lobsters ashore in Bay St. George

Now to my other memory from that time. I am guessing that spending the night in the hospital when you are six years old and not sick, could be pretty exciting.

Here it is. They served bologna and eggs for breakfast. I was so busy with all the excitement, I must have turned my back for a minute and when I looked back, my breakfast was gone.

Moral……. keep your eyes on the bologna….

The good news…

We returned to home on Thursday, December 20th, to find that the water had not reached our house.

Looking toward the Crossing from the Gut Bridge

Stephenville Crossing, Dec 19, 1951

“A severe storm at Stephenville Crossing washed out the rail bed and 15 telegraph poles were blown down. The train station was also flooded along with the Avalon Telephone exchange. The rail line was closed for three days. Over 600 people were evacuated. West Street was under 1.2 m of water. Winds of 110 miles per hour were recorded. The Minister from St. John’s visited the area and decided it would be necessary to build a breakwater 3-5 miles long. Damage was also reported at Summerside, Bay of Islands, where George Ruth lost his fishing stores and boat. A sawmill at Summerside was also destroyed, and many fishermen lost boats and gear. This was reported as the worst storm since since the Burin tidal wave. The storm washed thousands of lobsters ashore.”

Source: Western Star, Dec 28, 1951

Stephenville Crossing, Dec 19, 1951

 

Severe storm at Stephenville Crossing washed out rail bed and 15 telegraph poles were blown down. Train station was also flooded along with Avalon Telephone exchange. Rail line was closed for three days. Over 600 people were evacuated. West Street was under 1.2 m of water. Winds of 180 kph were recorded. Damage was also reported at Summerside, Bay of Islands, and many fishermen lost boats and gear. Storm washed thousands of lobsters ashore.

 

Source: M. Batterson, D.G.E. Liverman, J. Ryan and D. Taylor, The Assessment of Geological Hazards and Disasters in Newfoundland: An Update. (St. John’s: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Mines and Energy, Geological Survey, © 1999). Map adapted by Don Walsh and Tina Riche, 2000.