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Mapping Canada's biggest earthquakes

A recent earthquake in Nunavut has drawn attention to Canada's surprising seismic zones

  • Jan 09, 2017
  • 472 words
  • 2 minutes
map of Canada's biggest earthquakes Expand Image

British Columbia is widely known to be Canada’s seismic danger zone, but every so often the shifting Earth reminds us that the rest of the country isn’t immune to the sometimes fickle movements of tectonic plates. 

Early Sunday morning, residents of the small Nunavut communities of Resolute, Arctic Bay and Grise Fiord awoke to shaking caused by a magnitude 5.8 quake centred about 85 kilometres southeast of Resolute. No injuries and only light damage were reported, but the quake drew attention to the surprising seismicity of the Canadian High Arctic. 

As the map above, created for the June 2015 issue of Canadian Geographic, shows, Baffin Bay was actually the site of one of the strongest earthquakes in Canadian history, which occurred on Nov. 20, 1933. Measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, it remains the largest known earthquake north of the Arctic Circle. 

Here are more of Canada’s biggest quakes, in descending order of magnitude; their epicentres are also marked on the map. 

Cascadia subduction zone, B.C
Date: Jan. 26, 1700
Location: Off the southwest coast of British Columbia, near the present-day border with the United States
Magnitude: 9 (estimated)
Fact: The quake generated a tsunami that was recorded in Japan
Haida Gwaii, B.C.
Date: Aug. 22, 1949
Location: Off the islands’ west coast
Magnitude: 8.1
Fact: Strongest earthquake ever officially recorded in Canada
Haida Gwaii, B.C.
Date: Oct. 27, 2012
Location: Off the islands’ west coast
Magnitude: 7.7
Fact: The hot springs at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve ran dry following the quake (they’ve since begun flowing again
Haida Gwaii, B.C.
Date: June 24, 1970
Location: 30 kilometres south of the islands
Magnitude: 7.4 
Fact: Felt up to 350 kilometres away, on northern Vancouver Island 
Vancouver Island, B.C.
Date: June 23, 1946
Location: Just west of Campbell River
Magnitude: 7.3
Fact: Strongest onshore earthquake ever recorded in Canada
Grand Banks, Nfld.
Date: Nov. 18, 1929
Location: 250 kilometres south of Newfoundland, in the Atlantic Ocean
Magnitude: 7.2
Fact: Caused an underwater landslide that generated a tsunami, which in turn killed 28 people
Haida Gwaii, B.C.
Date: May 26, 1929
Location: About 50 kilometres south of the islands
Magnitude: 7
Fact: Felt at Ketchikan, Alaska, 450 kilometres to the north, and at Skeena, B.C., 400 kilometres to the east
Charlevoix, Que. 
Date: Feb. 5, 1663
Location: St. Lawrence River near La Malbaie, Que. 
Magnitude: 7 (estimated)
Fact: Felt over the entire eastern part of North America, an area of 1.9 million square kilometres
Vancouver Island, B.C.
Date: Dec. 6, 1918
Location: Near the island’s central west coast
Magnitude: 6.9
Fact: Felt in northern Washington State and in Kelowna, B.C., more than 500 kilometres to the east
Nahanni region, N.W.T
Date: Dec. 23, 1985
Location: In the Mackenzie Mountain range
Magnitude: 6.9
Fact: This quake was the strongest of a series of earthquakes that took place in the region in the last months of 1985

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