Tuesday, October 23, 2012

East Coast Blues & Polio

Researching more Canadian Disasters can be sad work.
The stories are tragic, or sad, or wasteful or amazing, but are worth reading about, even if only to teach us not to do that thing, or build that van, or to remind us to check that warning light again.
From Cape Spear to Frederick Island and from Grise Fiord to Point Pelee, there are Canadian stories we read about in the papers but are soon lost to the popular media until an anniversary slips past.  But Canadian history is worth retelling and writing about. As usual I try to find stories which represent all Canadians and give equal value to places like Manitoba or Saskatchewan, but I can't.
Not enough bad stuff happens in Saskatchewan, luckily for you folks.

Tragedies always seems to tilt us unfairly toward our east coast.
What hasn't happened in or near Newfoundland? Previous versions of Canadian Disasters included the 77 seal hunters freezing to death on the ice and the extinction of the Beothuk Indians. We also wrote about the Ocean Ranger, which I think is still one of the most unbelievable and preventable disasters ever to hit Canada.
But I've been learning about more stories coming from the eastern part of our country.
I've just learned about the Newfoundland Hurricane way back in 1775. It killed about 4000 people, mostly fishermen and sailors caught out in their boats. It was probably Canada's worst hurricane ever, and the second deadliest in all North America.
A few months ago I read various accounts of the heart-wrenching tale of the Truxtun and the Pollux, two US warships wrecked on the Newfoundland coastline, and the simple human decency shown to a black sailor who was taken nearly dead to be warmed, washed and fed by the people of St. Lawrence. (Can you believe that black sailors were not allowed off their ship in Iceland in the 1940's because of a ban against 'people of colour'? Iceland!) Lanier Philips, the sailor whose black skin the sailor's wife tried to wash free of the stain of oil, was so touched by the acceptance shown him by these extremely poor people of Newfoundland it changed his life.  He became an advocate for African-American sailors and citizens and was honoured to walk with Martin Luther King Jr. The Truxtun / Pollux story is coming to the book this year.

Also new this year will be the Cougar helicopter crash which went down off Newfoundland in 2009. This sad event could have been prevented by due diligence years before, when failures of the main engine gearbox began to reveal themselves.

Bradford Frame, Toronto, 1937

Today I've been writing about Polio.  Hard to believe how fearful, and with excellent reason, Canadians were about a common virus.  Decades of work went into finding a vaccine which has made this sneaky disease virtually unknown in Canada.