In Quebec, we generally believe that we are safe from these large earthquakes that sometimes shake the planet in other hemispheres, such as the tragic earthquake that occurred in last week in Morocco. However, we forget that here too the Earth shook strongly, in particular during the famous earthquake of 1663. A look back at this important geological event that, according to seismologists, was one of the most important to occur in the entire world. North America.
On February 5, 1663, around 5:30 p.m., an enormous crack echoed throughout the St. Lawrence Valley, shaking the indigenous populations and the approximately 2,500 French inhabitants of New France. Inside The annals of the Hôtel-Dieu of Québec, Mother Juchereau of Saint-Ignace speaks of a “noise similar to that of two armies preparing for combat or that of sea waves in the midst of violent storms.” This loud whisper was accompanied by a great earthquake that shook the Laurentian Valley.
The Jesuit Relations constitute important sources for the history of New France. In 1663, Father Jérôme Lalemant gave us a lot of information about how the earthquake was perceived and experienced by contemporaries of the time. Public domain
According to an account by Jesuit Father Jérôme Lalemant, church bells began to ring of their own accord, houses shook, forcing frightened people to take to the streets and kneel to pray. He adds that “the earth jumped making the stakes of the palisades dance in a way that did not seem credible (…). We see new lakes where there were never before, we no longer see certain submerged mountains. Several similar testimonies coincide with each other, in particular those of Marguerite Bourgeoys or Marie de l’Incarnation., or the governor of Trois-Rivières and founder of Boucherville, Pierre Boucher, who will talk about extraordinary things that he had never seen in his life.
But what happened to us in the year of Our Lord 1663?
“An exceptional natural event”
During the seven months following this first tremor on February 5, several other large-scale earthquakes were felt throughout New France, disrupting the daily lives of residents. However, due to low population density, no deaths were recorded.
Researcher Lynn Berry points out in an article that the 1663 earthquake is considered by specialists as “an exceptional natural event.” With a magnitude estimated by geologist Jacques Locat between 7.2 and 7.8 on the Richter scale, the epicenter would have been the Saguenay Fjord, near the Charlevoix seismic zone, but it would have been felt from Percé to what is today It’s New York State. Large landslides occurred, rivers were diverted and entire forests were uprooted or buried under mud, which tends to confirm the testimonies of contemporaries of the time.
The Charlevoix region is a seismic zone where numerous earthquakes of various magnitudes occur. That of 1663 would have ranged between 7.2 and 7.8 on the Richter scale. Canada Earthquakes
The God’s anger
Father Lalemant and most of the missionaries and religious of the time interpreted this earthquake as a message from God: “When God speaks, he makes himself heard.” It must be said that it occurs in a context where the Church seeks to strengthen the piety and devotion of the inhabitants of the colony.
February 5 was the day before Mardi Gras, which was then a time of partying and drinking among locals, activities all seen as debauchery by the religious of the time. The brandy trade and, in particular, the consumption of the aborigines also worried the representatives of the Church, who took advantage of this earthquake to harden morale in the colony.
Thus, in his writings, Father Lalemant is glad that the following Shrove Tuesday the earthquake stood out “in modesty and humility, and in tears of perfect penitence.”