The Escuminac Disaster by Bernadette Keating

THE ESCUMINAC DISASTER by Bernadette Keating

(As sung by Bernadette Keating, of Chatham, at the 1959 Miramichi Folksong Festival, when she was thirteen years old.)

It was the nineteenth day of June it happened,
Nineteen and fifty-nine was the year,
In and around Escuminac
A sudden storm did appear.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

A number of men set out with their nets
That afternoon around three,
Some delayed, and they escaped
The perils of the sea.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

The waves were Oh! So very high,
Like mountains in the sea,
They slashed and tossed and ripped the boats
And wrecked the fishing fleet.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

Children and wives of the fishermen
Waited in despair,
Hoping and praying in tears of grief,
Some sign of life would be there.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

God granted some of the men should be saved,
And thirty-five would be drowned,
That most bodies would be washed ashore,
And a few might never be found.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh wailing wind!

Stories were told of the brave and the bold,
How heroes were born that day;
Men who braved the winds and waves
Out in the Miramichi Bay.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

They in boats which had not capsized
Feared the dangers around,
Yet stayed to help their neighbours and friends,
Knowing some already drowned.
Oh wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

A young fisherman lad of eighteen years
Caught a rope which he was cast.
He passed it on to his brother and Dad,
Thinking of his own safety last.
Oh, wicked waves! Oh, wailing wind!

We shall never forget those disasterous hours
Of death, sadness and sorrow,
But we know that God in His infinite way
Will give courage to fleets of tomorrow.

On the afternoon of June 19,1959, fifty-four vessels sailed from Escuminac for the salmon fishing. It was fine when they went out, official broadcasts were predicting good weather. No one anticipated the freak storm which burst upon the fishing fleet that night. In the storm twenty-two of the salmon boats were lost, with nearly three-quarters of a million dollars worth of equipment. Thirty-five men and boys were drowned. The news of the two long nights and days of terror, and the heroism of the fishermen made a tremendous impact on the people of Miramichi.

In 1959 Bernadette Keating of Chatham was thirteen years old. She composed the words and music of her own song, the most beautiful of all the tributes to the heroism of the fishermen. It was very touching to see the child, in her simple school-girl’s dress, sharing her own deep emotion with a hushed audience.

- Louise Manny, Songs of Miramichi, pp. 92-93

Bernadette Keating
Louise Manny
c. 1959
New Brunswick, CANADA
© 1968, Brunswick Press. All Rights Reserved.

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