Saxby Gale of 1869 by Marilyn Bonvie
The SAXBY GALE of 1869
This is the story of the Saxby Gale as told on CBC radio in 1979 by historian Norman Creighton. There were two McVicar  Brothers, Peter & George along with others, maybe 11 or 13 men who died in the storm in a barquentine named the Genii (3-masted, square-rigged sailing vessle) that left the St.Andrews area going to Saint John.  The ship sank at Lepreau.   Researched February 14,  1999 and contributed by Marilyn Bonvie [email protected]
Click here for an off-site link to the Gale
Page Mounted 9 Nov 2001

Older folks around St.George knew about the SAXBY GALE from their parents and grandparents.   I remember hearing stories about the Big Gale when I was young.   One story was about how all the large old trees had been destroyed by the gale.  Apparently St. George had an Armory until then, and the gale blew the roof off and it was torn down  Many people in Charlotte County lost their homes, barns and livestock.   My great-grandparents, David & Eleanor Leavitt had their home taken off its foundation and drifted in the swelling tides, is what I was told by a lady who knew much of the history of the area.

On CBC Radio October  5th 1979  Historian Norman Creighton gave this account on his Radio Talk Show.


On the night of October 4th and 5th, 1869, exactly 110 years ago today,  occurred the Saxby Gale,  to leave a legend that still provokes our wonder.    It swept up the Bay of Fundy  smashing wharves,  tossing vessels ashore,  and creating tides that may have set an all-time world record.  An account of it appeared in the AMHERST GAZETTE,  three days later,  which said that: "the tide must have been eight feet above the ordinary high-water level  and four feet above the dykes."

Oddly enough,  it hardly affected Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast - the South shore and the Eastern shore,  but confined itself to communities along  New Brunswick's Fundy coast  - and the inner reaches of Minas Basin  and Chignecto Bay.

No one really knows how many lives were lost in that gale.  In the churchyard at Hillsborough, in Albert County (N.B.)  is a whole section of tombstones  raised to the victims of the Saxby "tide", as some called it,  because it was the phenomenal tide  that accounted for most of the casualties.  Farmers had gone down to the marshes,  in an attempt to lead their livestock to safety,  and then  the dykes broke,  and they were swept away  by a great tidal wave.

It was called the Saxby gale because of a certain Lieutenant Saxby,  a young officer in the Royal Navy who was also an amateur astronomer.  Lieutenant Saxby had written a letter to the London  Times almost ten months before this happened  warning  that in October of the coming year,  the position of the moon  in relation to other heavenly bodies,  would cause a gale of immense and devastating force  He even fortold the day - October 5th.

Most of those who read Lieutenant Saxby's prediction - and it was widely reprinted in American and Canadian newspapers - dismissed the warning,  pointing out that gales often did occur in October.  It was almost a foregone conclusion that a gale would occur  somewhere in the world,  and Lieutenant Saxby hadn't said  where this one would strike.

But a gale did strike,  on the evening of October 4th, 1869.  The weather that afternoon  had given no cause for uneasiness.  The day dawned without the slightest sign of anything unsual,  or foreboding.  Along the New Brunswick coast, .from St.Stephen to Saint John,  water lapped gently against the wharf pilings,  under a blanket of fog, which later cleared, giving way to a warm sunny morning.  A perfect Autumn day.

Then, about noon,  at the entrance to Yarmough (N.S.) harbour,  whitecaps began to appear,  while a light  breeze from the southwest gathered strength.  As the afternoon advanced,  the breeze increased steadily,  while the heat became oppressive.  Out by Yarmouth lighthouse,  or at The Churn, on the way to Cape Forchu,  you could hear the waves beginning  to boom.  Soon  the michaelmas daisies were wet with drifting spray.  Toward the south,  the sky loomed dull and leaden,  growing darker as the afternoon wore on,  with the rising wind  riding the sky on a witches'-broom of scudding storm clouds.  By five o'clock  the wind reached hurricane force.  By six,  trees were falling,  as if felled by an axe.  By nine o'clock  the raging,  terrifying Saxby Gale  was at its height.

We, today, can have no idea  how frightening this gale must have seemed,  to people cut off and alone,  with no means of communicating with their neighbours - no telephone,  no radio,  no electric light to snap on.  Many homes without even a kerosene lamp  and hard enough to keep a candle burning in the drafty rooms.

One man described it like this: "The extreme darkness,  the constant roar and tumult of wind,  the lashing rain,  the groaning of great trees,  the hail of debris, shingles, branches, objects large and small, falling everywhere, roofs carried aloft, whole buildings collapsing,  all gave a paralyzing sense of insecurity and calamity."

At St. Andrews (N.B.)  123 vessels were tossed up onto the beach -- a barque named the Genii  was sunk at Lepreau with the loss of eleven lives  [note,  these men were from the area, among them was two McVicar brothers from Mascarene shore, the barque was  named GENIL, she smashed at Lepreau].    On Campobello Island  (Charlotte County),  wind and tide destroyed over 80 buildings -- the roof of the Volunteer Armoury in St. George (N.B.) was carried 100 yards by the wind.  In St. Stephen a man was picked up by the wind, carried across the street, and deposited on the other sidewalk.

As the gale raced up the Bay of Fundy  it swept the water on ahead and forced it into the inner bays and inlets - into Shepody Bay and Cumberland Basin and Minas Basin (N.S.).

In the town of Annapolis (N.S.),  water was knee-deep on Lower St.George Street.  At Grand Pre  (N.S.)  it breached the Great Horton Dyke, flooding 3,000 acres,  and drowning herds of cattle.  Windsor's Water Street  was like a canal in Venice,  and the Windsor Baptist Church had seven feet of water in the vestry.

At Moncton (N.B.),  at the foot of South King Street,  the tide rose nine feet over the Harris wharf  up onto the warehouses, destroying supplies of salt, flour and other perishables.  If you're driving through Moncton  you can see a marker at Boreview Park,  along with a plaque indicating the height of the tide,  just before midnight,  on that fateful 4th and 5th of October, 1869.

The greatest destruction of all  took place on the Tantramar Marshes  (border between N.B. &  N.S.).  Cattle and sheep were still out to pasture,  and as the wind rose to gale force,  they huddled in the lee of the many hay stacks and hay barns that dotted the marshes,  well-protected, it seemed  by the outer dykes  25 feet high.

Some owners, however, grew worried and decided to go out and inspect their hay barns only to discover that the dykes were crumbling.  A great tidal wave inundated the Tantramer Marshes sweeping before it a churning floatsam of hay barns and hay stacks and struggling animals.  Some of the men lost their lives.

One,  a man from Minudie Point (N.S. side),   had taken refuge in a barn.  The barn was soon swept away  but somehow he managed to clamber up on a haystack  that came floating by,  and on this hastily improvised Kon Tiki,  he floated up towards Amherst.  Then  to his consternation  he found his floating haystack turning with the tide and heading out to sea.  It looked as if all was lost,  for the haystack was gradually subsiding under his weight  when, just as he'd given up hope,  it struck the submerged top of a dyke,  and stayed there.    That man,  from then on,  always gave his cattle  plenty of hay.

Note:  Eastport, Maine was really hard hit by this storm.  Seems it came ashore at Eastport,  then continued through the Fundy coasts of New Brunswick and  Nova Scotia.  I have other accounts of this storm from newspapers.  No one got the storm any worse than Eastport and Charlotte County shores.   M.Bonvie.
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