Turmoil on Cowichan Lake during 1946’s earthquake

The ground rumbled at Cowichan Lake rather significantly at roughly 10:15 a.m., Sunday, June 23rd, 1946.

The ground rumbled at Cowichan Lake rather significantly at roughly 10:15 a.m., Sunday, June 23rd, 1946.

About a week after the quake, Ernest Hodgson of the Canadian Dominion Observatory arrived from Ottawa to document the quake’s impact.  His findings were published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

The quake was felt as far south as Portland Oregon, north to Smithers, and east to Kelowna.  The magnitude was 7.3.  It was noteworthy that there were few aftershocks.

Earthquake science has changed a lot since 1946. We now know that the epicentre of that quake was 25 kilometres northwest of Courtney.  Most of the “ground failure” damage associated with the earthquake occurred within a 50 kilometre radius of the epicentre.

An exception to that was damage at Cowichan Lake, which was 130 kilometres from the epicentre.  At Cowichan Lake, near-shore sand deposits (mainly beaches) along the lake failed and disappeared into the deep water.  In addition, a wave (possibly as high as 5 metres) was reported to have caused considerable damage around the lake.

I always enjoy T. W. Paterson’s historical column.  After the Haiti earthquake, he reported that a Mrs. Erickson experienced a nightmare at Cowichan Lake of the 1946 quake, “when their float home was lifted high on one end then thrown on the other, at the same time spinning about crazily.”

The column reads that, “Miraculously, she wasn’t injured and there was little damage to the house or contents.”

He also told of a Mr. Hermas Anderson, of Youbou, who was out in a row boat with his three sons at the time of the quake.  Mr. Anderson literally rowed out the turbulent waters of the lake until things calmed down and he could safely go ashore. Others, who were near the shore, clamoured up the shoreline for safety.

Wally Carlson, writing for the Mosaic of Forestry Memories initiative, reported a similar row boat story at Caycuse.  In that case, Emil Manus was out fishing in a row boat when the quake struck.  Mr. Manus reported the following: “The water dropped six feet – my house was right on the shore, there is a picture of it – and there was a boat tied up to a float down there.  So, after everything had calmed down, I went and measured – the boat had hit bottom, keeled over, and was in six feet of water!  Think of the tremendous propulsion that it takes to move a lake full of water that sloshes six feet.  It was a pretty good sized earthquake.”

Memories of major earthquakes –Pakistan, Sumatra, Szechuan, Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and now Japan are vivid.  We are due for a big one here, as well.  It gives pause for thought.

How well am I prepared personally–probably not well enough.  The odds of an earthquake happening here are no different than they were a week ago but it is past time for me to get seriously organized.  Plan for the worst –hope for the best.

Going beyond personal preparedness, it seems that many homes, cottages and businesses, are already too close to the water for personal safety and for the safety of our precious watershed resources.

If the big quake is really a certainty, shouldn’t it be given more consideration when we consider current and future shoreline development within this incredible watershed?

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