What was that? An earthquake?

Sooke's historian Elida Peers and other locals remember the 1946 eartghquake

Damage was evident on buildings on Vancouver Island after 1946 earthquake.

Damage was evident on buildings on Vancouver Island after 1946 earthquake.

Working at the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre when I experienced the rumbling, shaking and explosion of the recent 3.1 earthquake in the Sooke hills, it took my nerves a while to settle down. Located where I was, perhaps the valley formation channelled the reverberations, as the explosion was so strong it scared me out of my wits.

This recent experience, strangely, was more dramatic for me than the 1946 earthquake which shook Vancouver Island on June 23 that year.  A 7.3 magnitude quake, its epicentre was in the Forbidden Plateau region.  This event is listed as the largest magnitude quake to occur on land in Canada.

Strathcona Park and the Forbidden Plateau experienced changes in land mass and new canyons opened up. Considerable damage was done throughout Courtenay and Comox, as shown in the attached photos. Fortunately it was a Sunday and the children weren’t in school as there was much structural damage and many fallen chimneys. Roads gave way.  In Vancouver and Victoria chimneys fell as well.

As a young girl, I was at home with my parents in Saseenos when rumbling began, the house shook, china fell from shelves and we all ran outdoors. My brother Maywell Wickheim was in a lower meadow scything grass when he experienced the hayfield rolling in ripples in front of him.

Ray Vowles, at home on Maple Avenue in Sooke, recalls how the shaking was scary for everyone as they hadn’t felt an earthquake before.

Across the harbour in Becher Bay, Louise Paterson (then Louise Wright) gives this account: “When the shuddering started, we really felt the movement. Nothing stayed on the walls and the entire pantry shelving and its contents lay in shambles on the floor. We were all wide-eyed in shock.

“At the south end of Green’s sandy beach, a large gaping crevasse had opened up and created a gulley that extended deep into the forest. The opening is still visible today, as the separated embankments slid onto the beach, bringing trees out as well. Today the wave action continues to erode the opening.

“At Parkers’ beach, the damage was more extreme.  The Parker boathouse, trees, debris and rocks slid into the sea, scalping the land and literally wiping out all that was in their path.  The gulley now has grown some underbrush, but the beach has never recovered.”

Victoria, as a more populated centre, experienced more building damage than Sooke. The tall laundry smokestack at the St. Joseph’s Hospital collapsed.

Liz Johnson (then Liz Norton) recalls, “My baby brother John was just seven months old. When the earthquake hit, my mother grabbed him, ran outside and put him in his lovely English pram. She then ran back in the house and fetched his best hand crocheted shawl – after all, if we were all killed, those who found our remains would be impressed by how great he looked.”

David McClimon says “It takes something fairly substantial to get the attention of a busy 10-year old guy but I do remember there was a lot of shaking going on for a few minutes. We were living on Fort Street in Victoria when our house began to quiver, shiver and shudder. No real damage was done as far as I can recall but there were lots of excited people running around the neighbourhood. Coincidentally our family moved to the fine town of Sooke a few weeks later and since then there has not been much going on in the way of serious seismic activity. But if my calculations are correct, the BIG ONE is likely to arrive during the winter of 2022.”

Three years later in 1949, an earthquake of even greater magnitude, 8.1, occurred not on land but in the ocean floor west of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). This event still lives in the memory of Audrey Wilson (then Audrey Sullivan).

She says: “John and I had only been married a few months and he and his brother were building a house just up the street from the little house we were renting in Langford. It was near noon and I was waiting for John to come home for lunch when I felt rumbling and looked up the street to see wires whipping around. When the shaking started I tried to go outside but the door frame was leaning to the left and then to the right.  A few things fell out of cupboards but there was no real damage done.”

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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