The Gales of November

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist; this was originally written for the Oshawa Express in 2013

November 2013 was the 100th anniversary of one of the deadliest storms to ever hit Lake Ontario. Early November 1913 saw a storm like no other storm hit the entire Great Lakes area.  Known as the White Hurricane, the storm lasted four days and brought with it deadly snow, ice and freezing temperatures.  When the storm finally ended, approximately 250 people had lost their lives and ships that were supposed to be “unsinkable” had sunk.

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William Percy Judge, a resident of Oshawa, wrote about this storm in his memoirs.  The following is Judge’s description of how the White Hurricane affected Oshawa.

I recall the impact of the great storm of November 1913 on Oshawa’s lakefront.  The storm changed the shoreline, ripped up the pier, tore out the bridge where the creek entered the lake, wrecked the boathouse and dock, tore down the Ocean Wave (and) destroyed the sandy bottom and the beach, left gravel in place of sand, tore down most of the trees in the picnic grounds, wrecked tables and benches and broke many windows in the pavilion.  Some waves were as high as the pavilion and water ran across the car tracks and road and into the cat-tail swamp.  I had heard of the storm from the telegraph operator at the Grand Trunk Station.  Before the storm was over, thirteen large ships had been sunk and more than two hundred people had lost their lives.

The morning of the storm, November 7, gave no indication of the terrible weather to come.  It was apparently, a beautiful warm, in fact unusually warm, and windy day.  However, an Arctic blast of extremely cold air was about to collide with the warmth of the Great Lakes.  In his memoirs, Judge provides an explanation for the terrible turn in the weather.

Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes but is very deep.  In the center (sic), the bottom is almost five hundred feet below sea level and because of this, much of the same water could remain near the bottom of the lake.  The current carries the water on top over it like a river.  Because of its depth, it takes a longer time and really big blow to cause Lake Ontario to go mad.  The conditions were right – so, mad she got.

The storm that so battered the Great Lakes concluded with blue skies and temperatures so warm that all of the snow melted by the end of the week.

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