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COVID-19 has been the second largest disaster to ever hit Essex County and Southwestern Ontario residents.


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With approximately 455 deaths locally out of more than 27,200 in Canada, the virus is second only to the Spanish flu pandemic that began in 1917. That historic pandemic, using a proportional percentage, would have resulted in Essex County approximately 907 deaths. of the more than 55,000 deaths in Canada.

Applying a similar proportional percentage (1.65) of the 26,000 who died of HIV / AIDS in Canada, we could estimate that 429 related deaths occurred in Essex County.

Even the typhus epidemic of 1847-48, which killed roughly 20,000 in Canada (or about 330 deaths locally) or the Asian flu of 1957-58, which claimed perhaps 116 lives locally, cannot match the devastation of the current pandemic disaster.

COVID-19 has been and can continue to cause more deaths, but it seems unlikely that it will exceed the death rate of the Spanish flu.


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Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, could soon also be classified as a major disaster in terms of overdose deaths.

As part of a planned series of ElderCollege courses, I have been examining an immense variety of disasters ranging from volcanoes to tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, fires and others attributable to human error that have occurred in Canada.

This includes two “near” disasters: two atomic bombs dropped by US bombers into Canadian waters in 1950. Neither bomb was ready to explode.

The Canadian Disaster Database sets a limit on the use of the word “disaster” at 10 or more deaths and / or 100 or more people affected, including the injured and homeless.

By those criteria, Essex County has only had a few disasters.


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The June 1946 tornado, which destroyed millions of dollars in property and claimed 17 lives, tops the list. Thereafter, the Metropolitan store explosion on October 25, 1960 and the Pelee Island plane crash in January 2004, each of which claimed 10 lives, ranked second.

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Another tornado on April 3, 1974 claimed nine lives and a winter storm on January 26, 1978 claimed eight lives.

Then the terrible crash of 87 vehicles occurred in the fog of September 3, 1999 on the 401 freeway near Manning Road, claiming eight lives and injuring 45.

Other gruesome events could include the winter storm of January 16, 1978 that claimed four lives; the explosion in the city of Essex on 10 August 1907 claimed two lives and injured many more.

In addition, other notable local disasters may include the Harrow Flood in July 1989, the Great Storm and Flood at Windsor-Tecumseh in September 2017, or the Great Fires at Harrow (1990) and Amherstburg (2006), neither of which it took lives. but it required evacuations.


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Human error figures prominently in many tragedies.

The projected series of ElderCollege courses will examine disasters ranging from ships and railroads to airplanes and explosions, fires, floods, and even landslides and tsunamis. But some other notable disasters in our immediate region are notable.

One of the worst maritime disasters in southwestern Ontario was the 1881 steamboat “Victoria” capsized on the River Thames near London, killing 182 people.

Some of Canada’s worst rail accidents also occurred in this region of southwestern Ontario.

The October 1854 train accident at Jeannette’s / Baptiste Creek, which claimed 52 lives and 48 injured 48 was one of the worst in Canada at the time. And another train accident in Wanstead, east of Sarnia, on December 26, 1906, killed 29 people and injured 31.


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Until October 30, 1941, Canada’s worst air disaster involved a regularly scheduled American Airlines airliner en route from Buffalo to Detroit. The “Erie flagship” that sank in a farmer’s field near Lawrence Station (north of Shedden) in Elgin County killed all 17 passengers and three crew members.

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And one of Canada’s deadliest marine disasters, the collision and sinking of the ocean liner Empress of Ireland, on May 29, 1914, which claimed 1,912 lives, included several laid off Ford Motors workers returning to their home countries. in Europe.

Local diver and historian Cris Kohl has in several of his books documented the number of lives lost in boat-related accidents on Lake Erie and the Great Lakes.

Natural and man-made disasters are part of our history. They also often reflect technological failures and fallibility of human judgment.

They cause pain and pain and that is why it is necessary to always remember them.

Lloyd Brown-John is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Windsor. He can be reached at [email protected]


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