1913 Great Lakes White Hurricane
The Great Lakes Storm of 1913, historically referred to as the “Big Blow,” the “Freshwater Fury,” or the “White Hurricane,” was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds that hammered the Great Lakes between November 7 and November 10, 1913. The storm was at its most destructive on Sunday, November 9, when it raged for 16 hours, battering and overturning ships on four of the five Great Lakes, particularly Lake Huron.
The White Hurricane was the deadliest and most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the Great Lakes and killed more than 250 sailors, destroyed 19 ships, and stranded 19 others.
“November gales” are not uncommon, and this particular storm produced 145 km/h (90 mph) wind gusts, waves over 11 m (35 feet) high, and whiteout snow squall conditions. Incredibly, almost 62 years later to the day, a gale of November sunk the Edmond Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975.
The “White Hurricane” also has a Lambton County connection (from the St. Joseph and Area Historical Society website)…
“(The ship) the “Northern Queen” went down off Port Franks and the story of its wreck is one of great courage and strength on the part of the crew and of great kindness and generosity of the local people in the Port Franks area.
The details of the events concerning this ship’s last days come from the Parkhill Gazette and the Port Huron paper. There are significant differences in the two reports. Anyway, the “Northern Queen” passed port Huron northbound on Sunday morning November 9 and sailed about 40 miles north in terrible weather. By the time Captain Crawford turned his ship around to go back south the storm was a “white hurricane.” One report suggests that the “Queen” nearly made it to Port Huron but turned north again and found the storm made it impossible to do anything. According to one report the ship was about 8 miles off Port Franks, unable to sail further. Captain Crawford described waves of tremendous heights pounding over the ship “stripping some of the upper works and smashing through the ports.” Water poured into the Captain’s quarters and throughout the ship putting out most of the boiler fires and leaving the ship without steam for power. At some point the ship lost its rudder and drifted. On Monday the ship “dropped into the triangle of the sea” and the crew lowered both anchors. After a time there was “a sudden lurch she shivered and crunched from stem to stem…there was a terrible crash and we knew she had lost both anchors.”
So the crew are now without any way of steering or controlling the ship as it drifted rapidly before the wind. Sometime on Monday the Northern Queen was a mile off Port Franks. The men had no food, no fires for warmth, and they clustered together on the bow soaked, cold, and miserable in the still heavy seas. On Tuesday morning they were about 1000 yards off shore. The Captain ordered the one remaining life boat over the side and 10 men went over the side into the lifeboat. Great effort was needed to keep the boat from being smashed against the hull of the ship. According to one report a cable had been attached to the lifeboat so that it could be pulled back to the ship. The cable, however, snapped. The 10 crew members got to shore with the help of local people who took them into their homes to be fed, dried, and warmed up after days of exposure to wind, snow, cold water, and lack of food.
Here the stories vary. One story has the crew attaching a cable to a large crate of goods and throwing the crate overboard. When it drifted close to shore the local men went in and pulled it to shore. The cable could now be attached to the life boat and pulled back to the ship.
Another version of the story has two of the crew from the group of 10 taken to shore trying to return the life boat to the ship only to be capsized in the heavy surf. In this version a second life boat was then launched from the ship to take 9 crew members to shore leaving the captain, the first mate, William McDonald, and the second mate.
One way or another, the last three were taken ashore and the crew of 22 from the “Northern Queen” were saved by their own courage and fortitude, and by the aid given to the crew by the local people.
The ship itself may have drifted further south before it finally went to the bottom. Evidently a number of years ago divers looking for a ship northwest off Kettle Point may have been looking for the “Northern Queen”. The official location of its sinking is Kettle Point.”