4 October

"Yankee Gale" Claims American Fishermen

Canada's smallest province, Prince Edward Island, has three nicknames, which is more than any other province can claim. It is known as "the Garden of the Gulf," "the Cradle of Confederation," and "the Cradle in the Waves." The cradle has rocked too sharply at times.

The famous Canadian sailing ship Marco Polo was wrecked on Cape Cavendish (see April 17) . The S.S. Queen Victoria, which took the Canadian delegates to the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, was lost in a hurricane on October 4, two years later. By coincidence the worst storm of all was also on October 4, but in 1851, when a large number of American fishermen lost their lives off Charlottetown. Estimates range from 150 to 300 lives.

The storm is known in history as the "Yankee Gale." There were more than 100 American fishing vessels off the north shore of Prince Edward Island when a freak storm suddenly blew up. It lasted from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, when watchers on the shore could see 70 fishing vessels wrecked on the beaches and sand dunes. Nearly all of them were from the New England states. The bodies of a great many victims were never recovered, but 70 were buried in various cemeteries along the shore.

The real cause of the disaster was not the storm, but the lack of a clear-cut fishing agreement between the British North American colonies and the United States. The situation had been confused since the War of 1812. In 1818, it was agreed that Americans could fish outside the three-mile limit of Newfoundland and the Maritimes, but the problem was "three miles from what?" The Americans said the treaty meant three miles from the winding of the coast, so that they could fish inside the wider bays. Newfoundland and the Maritimes claimed that it meant three miles from the headlands, and American fishing vessels entering that boundary were taken into custody. When the storm struck Charlottetown on October 4, 1851, the American fishing fleet tried to ride it out rather than risk running into the harbour. The result was the great loss of life.

There was so much anger on both sides that Britain sent a number of Royal Navy ships to patrol the fishing grounds. There was even a danger of war. The dispute was settled by the Elgin-Marcy Treaty signed in 1854 which gave Canada a beneficial reciprocity treaty with the States, and the Americans better fishing rights (see May 16) .


4 October

-1764    An ordinance regulated foreign currency.

-1860    Church union began at Pictou, Nova Scotia.

-1909    Governor-General Earl Grey laid the cornerstone of the Parliament Building, Regina.

-1913    A new customs agreement between Canada and the States went into effect.

-1922    A hurricane led to a forest fire and the loss of forty-one lives at Haileybury, Ontario. (* This website owner's mother was 4 years old then and remembered this fire)

-1927    Airmail service was begun to northern mining communities.

-1950    An oil pipeline was opened between Edmonton and Regina.

-1954    Delegates from seventeen nations in the Colombo plan met at Ottawa.

-1963    A strike of 1,300 longshoremen began in the St. Lawrence River ports.