The Wake: The Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami

The Wake: The Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami

On November 2nd, 1929 a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck deep in the water off the coast of Atlantic Canada.  While it would only shake for a few moments, the real damage would follow shortly.  A destructive tsunami would batter St. Lawrence, a small fishing village on the southwestern coast of Newfoundland.  In the end, twenty eight people would lose their lives and a town would suffer unimaginable loss.  When all was said and done, one hundred and twenty eight thousand kilos of salt cod would vanish effectively destroying the livelihoods of the townsfolk.  With Newfoundland already in a financial crisis, this would only further strain an island struggling to feed its inhabitants

While also achieving success as a novelist, Linden MacIntyre had previously made his name as an investigative journalist working for CBC television’s The Fifth Estate.  Given his long and storied career in the news media, it isn’t a shock the depth of research he undertook to produce a book of this scope.  MacIntyre had to dig deep to find first-hand accounts of the disaster that took place nearly ninety years ago.  The stories told of the water retreating – visuals of fishing boats resting on the ocean floor – before the massive twenty foot wave’s arrival were horrifying.  MacIntyre does an incredible job piecing together the events of that night as men and women fought for their lives against the uncaring destruction of mother nature.

While MacIntyre excellently conveys the horror of the events of that night, the true horror lies in what unfolds following the disaster.  With the town’s tent pole industry no longer viable, a man arrives in town with a plan: open a mine; and with villagers living on the dole ($1.80 a month), what choice do they have but take the first job available?  MacIntyre describes the damn near criminal conditions the employees were forced to work under while also making note of the infrequency of paychecks.  Miners were breathing in copious amounts of dust and dirt, destroying their lungs in the process.  To make matters worse, there wasn’t even a proper doctor in town let alone a hospital.

What I said above is just scratching the surface with regards to the scope of this book.  MacIntyre also touches on the depths of civilian poverty juxtaposed with the extent of government corruption by those in power, Newfoundland’s inadvertent role in the Manhattan Project and a seaside rescue mission.  There’s so much more to this book than just the wave and rather than digging deeper in my review, I’ll let you discover it yourself.

The Wake is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and I easily expect to see it land on my top five reads of 2019.

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