Monday, April 05, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Explosion At Ripple Rock

On this day in 1958 a sizable portion of the Canadian viewing public watched, transfixed, as one of the first coast-to-coast television broadcasts in the country's history showed them the destruction of Ripple Rock, near the Vancouver Island community of Campbell River...

Essentially an underwater mountain in the Seymour Narrows of British Columbia's Discovery Passage - at low tide a mere 2.7 meters (9 feet) underwater - Ripple Rock represented a major threat to shipping, and the area where it was situated was even described by Captain George Vancouver as 'one of vilest stretches of water in the world'. Since much of the province's mainland coastline isn't connected to the Port of Vancouver by road, residents of Haida Gwaii and cities like Prince Rupert then (as now) relied on coastal freighters for much of their food and other vital consumer items.

Ripple Rock's appetite for boats is borne out by the historical record; beginning in 1875 with the side-wheel steamer Saranac 20 large and 100 smaller vessels were either badly damaged or sunk by it at a cost of at least 110 lives. As early as 1931 a Marine Commission called for a solution to the problem; given the pace of bureaucracy, it wasn't until 1942 that the government approved its removal. The National Research Council of Canada undertook a feasibility study to consider the problem in 1953, and beginning in November 1955 a two and a half year effort to mine Ripple Rock with explosives via a 762 meter horizontal shaft began...

At 9:31:02 am 635,000 metric tons of rock and water were displaced by 1,270 metric tons of Nitramex 2H, which increased the clearing at low tide to about 14 meters (45 feet). Authorities cleared the blast zone to a radius of 3 km, and the camera operators who captured the historic images shown above were housed within a bunker when they did. The blast was felt as far away as Vancouver, and rained debris down from a maximum height of 300 m, some of which struck land on either side of the strait.

Fifty years later to the second the city of Campbell River commemorated the blast by recreating it with the aid of a special effects company; over the intervening years the event had been the subject of two songs - one by folk singer Stu Davis and another by Vancouver punk legends The Evaporators, whose 2004 third album Ripple Rock featured a song by that name.
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