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Québec Rockslide - September 19, 1889

On September 19, 1889, in the city of Québec, an overhanging piece of slate rock broke off from Cap Diamant and fell 90 metres (300 feet) onto the stone and brick houses that lay below. The slide had followed a day of very heavy rain. The homes of 28 families on Champlain Street, from number 133 to number 155, were crushed, leaving about 100 people buried beneath 24 metres (80 feet) of slate debris.

Rescuers were quickly on the scene, but in some cases it took days to remove the rocks and rescue the survivors or retrieve the bodies of those who had died. Over 40 people were killed by the rockslide, a number of them children. The death toll likely would have been higher had not several families been away attending two wakes.

Photograph showing the side of Cap Diamant and the ruins of the houses below the cliff, Québec, 1889

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Houses on Champlain Street, Québec, destroyed by the rockslide of 1889

Photograph of the roadway, which is completely blocked by fallen rock from the rockslide, Québec, 1889

Source

Rock covering the road on Champlain Street, September 1889

Sadly, this was not the first time such an event had occurred. Rockslides have been part of Québec City history since the 1700s, with most of the damage being confined to the Quartier Champlain area, at the foot of Cap Diamant. A similar accident had happened on May 17, 1841, again following heavy rain, also on Champlain Street. That time 27 people were killed and six houses destroyed. In 1852 and 1864, similar slides led to loss of life and property destruction. After the 1864 rockslide, the land beneath the cliff was cleared and the biggest cracks were filled with cement to anchor the structure. Until the 1889 rockslide, the houses on the opposite side of Champlain Street, farther away from the cliff, were considered to be in a safe area. After the 1889 slide, the ruins of the houses and rocks were left in place to help support the remains of the cliff.

An 1889 report into the losses caused by the rockslide shows that the effects on the survivors were long lasting. Many had injuries left them unable to work. Many others died young, leaving many families without a breadwinner or parent to look after the children who survived.