Anniversary of the Saxby Gale

Maritimers are always talking about the weather. I think it’s because if we wait five minutes, it’ll change. We have the winds from the west bringing heat waves, winds from the north delivering cold fronts, the Gulf Steam transporting warm, humid air and the Atlantic Ocean that tries to maintain a constant weather day except for when it’s stirring up a storm.

All this activity makes for a lot of material to discuss. It also makes for a lot of data to analyse to predict the weather for the day. Forecasting the weather for an entire week is difficult at best. Predicting the weather for more than ten months into the future is impossible (though I realise almanacs can be somewhat correct at times). However that’s just what Lieutenant Stephen Martin Saxby (1804-1883) of the British Royal Navy did when he warned the public of a devastating storm that would strike the Maritimes in 1869.

Saxby was an amateur astronomer. He used his knowledge of the moon and Earth to predict the weather according to celestial events. It was known as meteorological astrology. In 1864, he published The Saxby Weather System in which he outlined his theories, explaining his method of predicting the weather.

Saxby was keen to the idea that the phases of the moon and its position in relationship to the earth influenced the tides as well as atmospheric conditions that affected weather. He believed he could predict storms and noted the dates in his book. However, he could not name the location where the storm would occur, so sailors reading it had only dates to warn them.

In November 1868, Saxby and Frederick Allison, an amateur meteorologist from Halifax, combined their research and predicted a major storm would hit eastern Canada on October 5, 1869. A letter was sent to the newspaper to warn mariners and those residing along the shore. For the most part, these warnings were ignored. Allison had a second letter published in The Evening Express, a Halifax newspaper, on October 1, 1869, once again drawing the public’s attention to the predicted storm.

One hundred and fifty-one years later, we know the residents of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick should have heeded the warnings. The hurricane—or nor’easter, as some have called it—developed off Cape Cod on October 4th and roared towards Canada. Along the way, it caused a lot of destruction from Massachusetts to Maine.

The Saxby Gale devastated the Bay of Fundy area. The storm surge topped dykes and rushed inland, killing hundreds of people in Amherst, NS, and Sackville, NB. The Tantramar Marshes, shared by the two provinces, received a direct hit, and water flooded over the dykes killing cattle and sheep grazing in the fields. Many farmers who went out to check on their livestock were also killed. At sea, more than 120 vessels were either blown ashore or destroyed. The storm also took out a large section of the newly-laid railway between Windsor and Annapolis.

The immense loss of life and massive damage gives the Saxby Gale the honour of being the most destructive storm to hit the two provinces. If one of your ancestors died on this date, look to see if they were a victim of this storm.

The Halifax Citizen newspaper on October 9th reported news about the damage: “The tide on the night of the 4th, was most destructive. It attacked wharves, took them to pieces, and deposited the timber of which they had been composed half a mile inland; made sad havoc in the shipyards; destroyed dykes and carried fences away; took a barn with some stock therein, and transplanted it a distance of some 90 paces from the spot on which it had stood before.”

One of the last effects from the Saxby Gale is the natural causeway between mainland Nova Scotia and Partridge Island that was created from the storm surge.

The Sea, Our Home

The sea has been kind and it has been cruel to those who live along it and make their living upon it. These are the stories Quarter Castle Publishing hopes to capture within the pages of its short story collection The Sea, Our Home.

For more information about this Call for Submissions, visit The Sea, Our Home page.

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