Disaster Canada: From the 1700s to Today


270 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Index
ISBN 1-894073-13-4
DDC 971





Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur is the author of The Rise of French New Brunswick and
co-author of Silver Harvest: The Fundy Weirmen’s Story.


Our modern world is filled with disasters avidly reported, often in
graphic detail, by the media. So when an author/historian puts together
a book on disasters that have occurred in Canada and off our coasts over
the past two centuries, a reader’s first instinct is to examine hers
choices and, secondly, to see how she grouped them. Janet Looker
organizes her choices logically: 11 nautical disasters, 12 mostly mining
accidents, 13 fires, 14 disasters in a category called “Wind, Water
and Ice,” and another 14 ascribed to “technology and human error.”
All are depicted and numbered on a map following a short introduction.

Reflecting the resources and expertise of the publisher, Lynx Images,
“a unique Canadian company that creates books and films ... from
Canadian history,” the pictorial content is excellent. Looker’s
writing, based on eyewitness and contemporary news reports, is clear and
eminently readable. Two examples are her crisp three-page account of the
1982 Ocean Ranger disaster on the Hibernia oil fields off Newfoundland
and her nine-page description of the 1914 sinking of the Empress of
Ireland in the St. Lawrence River. Her one-page account of the 1992
Westray Mine explosion near Stellarton, Nova Scotia, makes clear the
culpability of the owners who failed to heed weeks of warnings from
miners about unsafe conditions

Although some disasters are omitted, the major ones—including the
1917 Halifax Explosion, the 1919 flu epidemic, the prairie dust bowl of
the Dirty Thirties, the 1916 Parliament fire, the Red River’s
recurring floods, the 1998 Ice Storm, and the Swiss Air crash—are all


Looker, Janet., “Disaster Canada: From the 1700s to Today,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8621.