The Dawson Creek Disaster

A powerful explosion rocked the small community of Dawson Creek on February 13th, 1943.  The blast reached Spirit River with enough strength left to rattle dishes in cupboards.

In 1943, the American Army was in Dawson Creek (population 500), working on the Alaska Highway.  The old town was surrounded by makeshift barracks and storage warehouses for construction equipment.  One, a livery barn in the centre of the commercial block, housed thousands of miles of copper wire, kegs of nails, spikes, cross-arm braces, hammers, crowbars, tires, and other assorted tools.

Two hundred cases of percussion caps and a truckload of dynamite were also stored in the handy location.

Somehow a fire started.  The inevitable explosion followed soon after, incinerating whatever was in the core zone and blowing people off their feet in expanding circles throughout the town.  Fire spread rapidly and eventually only one building remained standing – the Co-op store – but it was wrecked and looted.

The effects of the explosion and subsequent vacuum were curious… so were the effects of shell-shock on the people in Dawson Creek.

Dorthea Calverley has written a fascinating personal account of the disaster. It is a comprehensive story, covering not only her own experiences but those of several others.  Calverley herself was very lucky, and her account is well worth the read.

It was never determined exactly how the fire was started.  And how did Lord Haw Haw manage to announce the event in England just 15 minutes after it happened?

See a picture of the aftermath here.

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5 Responses to The Dawson Creek Disaster

  1. Pingback: Two Children’s Books About Dawson Creek | Town Spirit

  2. I didn’t know about this blast, even though it was a bit before my time. I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it even years later when my family arrived in Dawson Creek. I’ve just read Dorthea Calverly’s account of it. Her name twigged a funny connection. When I was a child, Dorthea Calverly was sometimes our substitute teacher at Grandview Elementary School. When the class saw who it was, we always knew that we could work quietly in our workbooks or read because she just sat at the desk in her black dress, took something out of the big bag she always carried, and began to knit. I’m glad I hadn’t yet read A Tale of Two Cities. In hindsight she reminds me of Madame Defarge who sat and knitted while heads rolled. We behaved for her.

  3. Pingback: Anniversary of a Disaster | Town Spirit

  4. Pingback: Grande Prairie’s Role in World War II | Town Spirit

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