Earthquake risks and how to insure against them

If you were asked which part of Canada is most at risk for earthquakes, you’d probably say Vancouver or British Columbia, and you’d be right!

How about next in line? You may be surprised to learn that it’s the St. Lawrence valley. Although earthquakes are less frequent there than out west, the risk is still real.

While people on the west coast are aware of the dangers of earthquakes and more of them carry appropriate coverage, Quebecers carry little or no coverage because they don’t think it’s necessary.

Here’s a brief introduction to the risks and related insurance protection.


They may be hard to predict, but major disasters are inevitable. Most earthquakes won’t even be felt — until there’s a major event! So there is cause for concern, especially since 40 per cent of the Canadian population lives in the two biggest seismic zones.

The St. Lawrence valley


It’s conceivable that a serious earthquake will occur in the near future not only in the Charlevoix area that experiences 20 tremors each year measuring between 3 and 4 on the Richter scale, but also in Montreal or Gatineau.

The Greater Montreal area could experience an earthquake on the same scale as the one that struck Haiti in 2010. According to a study commissioned by the Insurance Bureau of Canada and conducted by the firm AIR Worldwide, there is a five to fifteen per cent chance that the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys will be hit by an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale in the next 50 years. That’s not a negligible risk!

Even an earthquake of lesser magnitude can cause serious damage. The hard soil in the St. Lawrence amplifies the risk because the seismic wave cannot be absorbed by soft soil and will therefore propagate. That’s how the 5.9 magnitude earthquake in Saguenay in 1988 destroyed the City Hall … in Montreal East!

A potentially costly mess 

Thanks to our higher construction standards, Canadians are safe from the kind of disasters that afflict less developed countries, such as the one that occurred in Haiti in 2010. But our wallets can still take a serious hit.

During an earthquake anything fragile gets broken first: dishes, delicate objects, furniture, etc. After a few seconds, depending on the severity of the event, the walls and floors weaken. If the tremor is stronger, the building foundation can crack.

Repairing the foundation of a house involves literally lifting up the structure, which is a very expensive undertaking. It often has to be done in the case of heating oil leaks and the bill can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Are you covered?

In Quebec, 77 per cent of people think they are covered or don't know if they are covered by their insurance policies in the event of an earthquake (SOM Survey, October 2015). But in fact, around three per cent of them are actually covered.

Earthquake protection is an endorsement that can be added to your insurance policy. Although most people purchase protection against damage from fire and smoke following an earthquake, few opt for protection against land movement, which includes earthquakes, among other occurrences.

In addition to covering repairs, earthquake endorsements also cover some relocation and basic living expenses. The cost of this type of endorsement ranges from $150 to $350 per year for the average detached single family home in Montreal, for example. For co-properties it’s only a few dollars per month because these buildings belong to a co-owners’ association (that should also carry earthquake protection!).

To make the right decision, it’s important to know the risks — especially when those risks are real!

Learn how you can protect your home with the right insurance coverage.