In August of both 1926 and 1927, severe storms ravaged the Atlantic coastline of Canada, Newfoundland and the United States. The storm, or "Gale", was particularly intense near Sable Island. During the two Gales, the well-known "Graveyard of the Atlantic" claimed the lives of the crews of six Lunenburg schooners, and the American schooner Columbia.
The "August Gales" exhibit consists primarily of photographs and biographies of the lost fishermen, newspaper accounts from the time of the tragedies and salvaged artifacts from underwater wrecks.
The introductory section focuses on Sable Island and its long association with disaster. Photographic copies of early charts show that the area was a source of concern for navigators from the time of the first shipwreck, in 1583. By 1630, Sable Island was described as a "place well-known for shipwrecks".
"August Gales" were first recorded at Sable Island in 1873. Many vessels were lost. However, it was not until 1926 that the Lunenburg fishing fleet felt the full force of this "dark isle of mourning".
On August 8, 1926, the Lunenburg schooners Sylvia Mosher and Sadie A. Knickle were lost. Crew members came from small fishing communities along the Nova Scotia coast.
For several weeks after the storm there was confusion regarding the extent of the losses. Since very little wreckage washed ashore and there was no ship-to-shore radio communication, it was difficult to determine how many vessels were lost.
Plans were made after the 1926 Gale to add radio equipment and engines to the fishing schooners. With these additions, schooners would be better prepared to survive similar storms. However, the improvements were not made in time to help during the 1927 August Gale.
In 1927, the Lunenburg schooners Mahala, Uda R Corkum, Clayton W. Walters, and Joyce M. Smith were lost with their entire crews. The American schooner Columbia, with mainly a Nova Scotian crew, was also lost. Close to 100 fishermen lost their lives. In addition to those loses, many vessels were lost along the Atlantic coast.
For the Lunenburg schooners, the disaster was particularly harsh. Each vessel had crew members who were related to each other. One example is found in the Mahala. The Captain, Warren Knickle, was lost with his two brothers, Owen and Grenville, and their brother-in-law, Scott Miller.
As in 1926, weeks of uncertainty were experienced by every family who had loved ones at sea. The Gale took place on August 24, 1927. In the case of the American schooner Columbia, it was October before the owners were able to confirm that their schooner had been lost.
The storm affected communities all along the eastern seaboard. Most of the crew of the Joyce M. Smith were from Newfoundland. Many of the others came from parts of Nova Scotia.
The "August Gales" exhibit emphasizes dangers of schooner fishing. The loss of 138 men in two years brought home hardships to many families.
For those families, the "Gales" were the start of years of mourning and financial worry. Nova Scotian families received monthly compensation cheques. Newfoundland families did not receive assistance until an Anglican minister arranged payments of $100.00 per year to each family who suffered a loss.
Visitors often spend long periods of time in this exhibit. The exhibit helps us to realize that a romantic view of schooner fishing is not an accurate one. Coastal communities owe a great debt to the families of the generations of men who have gone down to the sea in ships.