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Water

Water is a source of energy and an indispensable element of life. All life on Earth depends on water to survive. The vapour of ocean currents helps maintain the planet's surface temperature within its livable limits. Water also forms a part of almost everything on Earth.

Water exhibits a unique set of chemical and physical characteristics. These unusual properties include its ability to exist as a solid, liquid or vapour at the temperatures and pressures found at and near the Earth's surface. This ability enables water to circulate through the atmosphere, ocean and solid earth, forming endless cycles that are known collectively as the hydrologic cycle, or water cycle. Water vapour plays a key role in the water cycle while acting as a small but critical atmospheric constituent. Thus, water is a unique substance that is essential to life and a key ingredient of our weather and climate system.

Photograph showing the Centre Street bridge, half of which has been washed away by the flood of 1915

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Centre Street bridge, destroyed by the 1915 flood, Calgary

The conditions that were necessary for water to appear on the planet are so unique as to be highly improbable: oxygen and hydrogen had to stay in the atmosphere and meet; and the Earth had to be the right size and distance from the sun. When the first fluid fell from the sky, it was water. (On Venus, clouds rain concentrated sulphuric acid, one of the most corrosive fluids in the universe.)

Photograph of a flooded street in front of Christ Church Cathedral, Montréal, circa 1870-1880

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Flooded street in front of Christ Church Cathedral, Montréal, circa 1870-1880

Canadians have generally taken their vast freshwater supply for granted, despite droughts in the 1930s. Canadian water has, for a long time, been plentiful, easily accessible and clean. The nation was shocked then, by the contamination of the water in Walkerton, Ontario, in the spring of 2000. A deadly strain of E. coli bacteria washed into the water supply, reportedly killing between five and eleven people.

The Earth's water can have frightening power; enough to wash away lives and solid structures, and to alter landscapes. Over years, the liquid can erode any surface. Horrendous Canadian disasters have been caused by the menacing effects of water, from floods to tsunamis.

Photograph of people paddling boats around railway cars at the flooded Bonaventure railway station, Montréal, 1866

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Flood at the old Bonaventure Grand Trunk Railway station, Montréal, 1866

The victims of such disasters could, no doubt, readily identify with the following passage from Shakespeare's King Lear.


Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houses, heads and unfed sides,

Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you

From seasons such as these?

- King Lear, Act III, scene iv

Photograph of a flood at the port of Hay River, Northwest Territories, 1951

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Flood at Hay River, Northwest Territories, 1951


Shipwreck Investigations

The Shipwreck Investigations Web exhibition plots a course through some of the unique shipwreck resources available at Library and Archives Canada.