Newfoundlandia: The Ice Wall Of 1862

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Game of Thrones has Castle Black, we have Twillingate, and by 1862 we both had epic ice-walls.

The memories we take forward inform who we are and where we are going. Some memories, better off forgotten, persist. Others, nearly lost, deserve to be carried. The ice wall of 1862 is one of the latter.

The spring thaw, which had always opened the world up to trade, planting, and fishing, was keenly anticipated in some quarters and desperately required in others. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to locals in 1862, there was a much longer wait in store than normal.

With the seas opening up and the snows melted, ships and fields were made ready for use, however 1862 would be the year without spring. The winds changed and the rain stopped falling. A gale blew strong and steady from the North-East, the sea began filling with pans of ice. A week later no water could be seen, instead a solid ice pack stretching to the horizon. The wind kept pushing and the ice kept coming.

Weeks 3 and 4 brought ice onto the shore, chasing the fortunate boats from the water and crushing docks, wharves, and the less fortunate. And still the winds blew and no rain fell. Ice began to pile and stack along the coast growing ever larger, reaching ever higher and pushing inland with what seemed like menace. Expeditions were launched to gauge the extent of the ice and others on foot made increasingly dangerous sealing hunts as need gnawed and grew sharp. All returned empty handed and none the wiser.

The entire North coast of the Island became a garrison cut off from the world and under siege. They had been denied the land, its soil a dried and wind-whipped husk spurning all attempts at life. All but the deepest wells were dry, and the growing mass of ice prevened any possibility of re-provisioning. Winter stores were all but gone, root cellars which were threadbare at the start of spring were now pillaged for every last crumb. It would be another 30 years before the railroad would open up the country. No help would be coming.

By week 6 the ice was towering over the landscape, rivalling the nearby hills. The fortress wall was punctuated by iceberg skyscrapers creating a skyline of ice. We could only wait and starve on the wrong side of the wall.

The howling North-East wind blasted the coast not ceasing, not slacking for a moment, every minute, every hour, every day for 52 days. Not a drop of rain fell for over 2 months. On the 53rd day, stillness and quiet pervaded through the close air, broken only by the low groans and wild crackles of moving living ice; a warm wind starting from the south. Eventually, the wind always changes. Some things we should never forget.

(This re-imagining has been based on real events as recorded by D.W. Prowse in A History of Newfoundland p.492)

About Author

Chad Bennett is a writer who lives in Downtown St.John's

2 Comments

  1. Great article. I really like your style of writing. I guess you have read The Year Without a Summer: The History and Legacy of the 1815 Eruption of Mount Tambora, a very good history of the effects of this world wide phenomena.

  2. As a denizen of twilingate isle, i have never heard this tale, but it is not hard to imagine. This is an excellently written piece. i thank those responsible for their research and time dedicated to our little outport and the stories that make it a magical place to live.

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