Disasters of Western Canada: Courage Amidst the Chaos


240 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-894864-13-1
DDC 971.92




Reviewed by A.A. Den Otter

A.A. den Otter is a professor of history at the Memorial University of
Newfoundland in St. John’s. He is the author of The Philosophy of


Disasters of Western Canada is exactly what its author claims—a
narrative account of a number of catastrophes and the heroic efforts of
rescue workers to minimize the loss of human life. Divided into two
sections, the book covers 12 natural and 16 accidental calamities.

Following no discernible order, the author describes ranging in time
from the Red River flood of 1826 to the Okanagan Mountain Park fire of
the summer of 2003. Although both of these incidents caused considerable
property damage, neither resulted in human fatalities. Similarly, the
Red River flood of 1950 and the subsequent flood of 1997 also saw only
material loss. Less fortunate were the people who lost their lives in
the Victoria smallpox epidemic (1862), the Frank slide (1903), the
Fraser Valley flood (1948), the avalanches in the Chilcoot (1898) and
Roger’s (1910) passes, and the tornadoes in Regina (1912), Edmonton
(1987), and Pine Lake (2000).

The loss of human life also loomed large in several serious accidents,
mostly train wrecks and airplane crashes. The most devastating train
wreck was at Dugald (1947), with 35 people killed, followed by the ones
near Hinton (1986), with 23 killed; at Canoe River (1950), with 19
fatalities; and near Brandon (1916), with 19 dead. The crash of a
Trans-Canada Airlines flight into Mount Slesse (1956) exacted 64 lives,
while the collision between a TCA passenger plane and a Royal Canadian
Air Force aircraft over Moose Jaw (1954) claimed 37 fatalities. The
ramming of the SS Pacific near Victoria (1875) caused the largest loss
of life—300 people. Mining also proved very costly to human
lives—explosions at the Nanaimo (1887) and Hillcrest (1914) mines cost
343 lives. Collapsing bridges in Victoria (1896) and Vancouver (1958)
cost 73 lives. Fortunately, fires in Barkerville (1868), New Westminster
(1898), Dawson (1899), and Victoria (1910) resulted only in property

Written in a lively style, Disasters of Western Canada is an
entertaining, although somewhat ghoulish, read.


Hollihan, Tony., “Disasters of Western Canada: Courage Amidst the Chaos,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14416.