The Charlevoix earthquake of 1663

The description that follows is taken verbatim from:

Smith, W E T, 1962. Earthquakes of eastern Canada and Adjacent areas 1534-1927, Publications of the Dominion Observatory vol. 26, no. 5.

1663 February 5. 5:30 p.m.

  • Intensity X.
  • Long.: 47.6 N, Lat.: 70.1 W.

In the St. Lawrence River between the mouth of Rivière La Malbaie* on the north and the mouth of Rivière Ouelle on the south. Felt over the entire eastern part of North America - 750,000 square miles. Accompanied by vast landslides along the St. Maurice, Batiscan and St. Lawrence Rivers. Sulte (S4), has shown from contemporary accounts that one of these slides practically levelled a very great waterfall at Les Grès on the St. Maurice River. Other damage was confined to cracked chimneys and the like. No loss of life was reported. "On the shores of Massachusette Bay houses were shaken so that pewter was jarred from the shelves and the tops of several stone chimneys were broken." (B4)

The effects in New England were very similar to those of the earthquake of June 11, 1638. Records of the destruction in the St-Maurice Valley have been thought to indicate a much greater intensity for the 1663 shock. However Hodgson (H8) tentatively concluded that the seismic intensity "was not markedly greater" than that of some five other shocks occurring in the same region in more recent times. This is borne out by the similarity of their effects at points along the New England coast. He further suggested that the devastation in the St. Maurice valley "does not, in all probability, indicate a separate focus there, but was due to a landslide of major proportions."

This opinion was based on a careful analysis of all available data and much first-hand study (H6) of new landslides in the marine clays of the same area. It is well established that great quantities of tree-covered earth moved from the shores into the rivers, especially near the suggested epicentre in the St. Lawrence and along the St. Maurice. The amount of rainfall during the season just prior to the earthquake would have great bearing on the question of whether these earth movements were likely to be landslides. Unfortunately no record of weather conditions could be found. The landslide explanation is accepted as final in this report because the great release of seismic energy necessary to explain the effects along river banks is incompatible with the minor damage sustained by buildings in the area.

The names "La Malbaie" and "Rivière La Malbaie" are those agreed upon by the Canadian Board on Geographical Names. Murray Bay is the name of a landing a few miles from La Malbaie. The terms "Murray Bay" and "Murray River" appear on many maps instead of "La Malbaie" and "Rivière La Malbaie" respectively. On some maps one English name and one French name are used.


  • A8 ANONYMOUS, 1925. Le dernier tremblement de terre: Soc. Géog. Qué. Bull., v. 19, 110-113.
  • B3 BRIGHAM, W. T., 1870. New England shaken: Old and New, v. 1, No. 1, 27-35.
  • B4 BRIGHAM, W. T., 1871. Historical notes on the earthquakes of New England 1638-1869: Reprinted from Boston Soc. Natural Hist. Mem., v. 2.
  • B5 BROOKS, J. E., S.J., 1960. A study in seismicity and structural geology. Part II-Earthquakes of northeastern United States and eastern Canada: Obs. Géophys. Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Bull.Géophys., No. 7, 12-40.
  • D2 DAWSON, Sir J. W., 1860. Notes on the earthquake of October 1860: Can. Natural Geol., old ser., v. 5, 363-372.
  • G1 GAGNON, A., 1891. Le tremblement de terre de 1663 dans la Nouvelle France: Roy. Soc. Can. Proc., v. 9, sect. 1, 41-52.
  • H1 HECK, N. H., and EPPLEY, R. A., 1958. Earthquake history of the United States. Part I-Continental United States and Alaska(exclusive of California and Western Nevada): U.S. Coast Geod. Surv. Pub., No. 41-1, rev. (1956) ed.
  • H8 HODGSON, E. A., 1928. The probable epicentre of the St. Lawrence earthquake of February 5, 1663: Roy. Astron. Soc. Can. J., v. 22, 325-334.
  • H9 HODGSON, E. A., 1937. Earthquakes in eastern Canada and adjacent areas: Roy. Can. Inst. Proc., ser. 3A, v. 2, 30-35.
  • H10 HODGSON, E. A.,, 1945. Industrial earthquake hazards in eastern Canada: Seismol. Soc. Am. Bull., v. 35, No. 4, 151-174. This paper contains a brief account of a number of the larger shocks in eastern Canada.
  • H11 HODGSON, E. A., 1950. The Saint Lawrence earthquake, March 1,1925: Dom. Obs. Pub., Ottawa, v. 7, No. 10, 361-436. This is the final account of the earthquake of February 28. It occurred on March 1 by Universal time and February 28 by Eastern Standard time. An appendix discusses the previous seismic record of the St.Lawrence Valley.
  • K1 KAIN, S. W., 1898. List of recorded earthquakes in New Brunswick: Natural Hist. Soc. N.B. Bull., No. 16, art. 2, 16-22.
  • L1 LAFLAMME, Msgr. J.-C. K., 1907. Les tremblements de terre de la région de Québec- Soc. Roy. Can. Mém. sec. 4, 157-183.
  • M3 MATHER, K. F., and GODFREY, H., assisted by HAMPSON, Katherine,1927. The record of earthquakes felt by man in New England: Copy of the manuscript of a paper presented to the Eastern Section of the Seismological Society of America in May, 1927.
  • M7 MILNE, J., 1913. A catalogue of destructive earthquakes A.D. 7 to A.D. 1899: Brit. Assoc. Advance. Sci. Rep., Portsmouth meeting, 1911.
  • O1 ODENBACH, F. L., S. J., 1906-1907. Twelfth annual report of the Meteorological Observatory at St. Ignatius College, Cleveland,7-15.
  • P1.1 PARKER, F. H., Dec. 17 1915. Contributions to the History of East Haddam-Moodus noises: Connecticut Valley Advertiser, Moodus, Conn.
  • S4 SULTE,, B., 1911. Un Niagara disparu: Soc. Géog. Qué. Bull., v. 5, No. 3, 205-211.
  • T1.4 THWAITES, R. G. The Jesuit Relations and allied documents- travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France 1610-1791: v. 12-71. Burrows Brothers Co. Cleveland, Ohio.This work, in 73 volumes, is a translation from the Latin originals into both English and French. Only 750 sets were printed.v. 47, 255, 297-299, 319; v. 48, 27, 37-65, 71-73, 157-161,183, 187-223; v. 49, 53, 89; v. 52, 223; v. 59, 29; v. 71, 304.
  • TONDORF, F A., S. J., 1914. The earthquake in New France, 1663: Georgetown College J., March issue.
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