This has been a rough winter with snow, strong winds and difficult travel conditions. But bad as it has been, nothing (so far) has equalled the storm that raged for several days at the very end of January 1971. On Feb. 3, 1971, the Journal Argus had many photographs and stories of this storm. It was a five-day blizzard, with high winds, cold temperatures and heavy snowfall – the worst storm in decades. The Journal reporter was definite in his description: “Don’t let anyone tell you about something they remembered away back when! This was the big storm, period!”
This week’s picture is copied from the storm issue of the newspaper. Unfortunately the original negatives are missing. Because of this, it is a bit blurry but it conveys a sense of the storm’s impact. As snow and high winds continue, one car struggles through axle-deep snow up Queen Street. Another near the cenotaph has been hauled out of a snowbank. With snow covering the sills, arches and every stone ledge on the Town Hall, a figure on the front steps, probably custodian Tom McGiveron, valiantly works to keep a clear passage into the town’s administration offices.
The storm came up suddenly the morning of Jan. 26 and intensified so quickly that people were caught by surprise. By noon, many motorists were stranded on impassable roads. Some found refuge in places along the highways, such as the Forty Winks Motel – later Wildwood Inn – where about 50 people spent two nights. Many were from nearby St. Marys including a women’s curling team who had been on their way to play in Ingersoll. Farm neighbours generously provided milk and eggs and the delivery van from Dorothy’s Delicatessen – also stuck nearby – contributed trays of bread, cookies and cakes, all gratefully consumed.
It was impossible for school buses to run. Rural students from St. Marys Collegiate found billets in town but in the country, students and teachers at schools such as South Perth spent two nights sleeping on the floor of their classrooms. This adventure is well-described in the 1989 township history, My Roots are in Blanshard.
A Journal Argus editorial praised the efforts of the local snowmobile club, the Snowbirds. Denounced by many as noisy nuisances, snowmobiles proved their value during this emergency. Members rescued people stuck in their cars, ferried farmers home to do chores, delivered food and blankets to schools and even undertook a night-time expedition to a home beyond Fullarton taking penicillin to a very sick child.
For more 1971 storm memories, visit the St. Marys Museum and read the newspaper accounts on microfilm. Call 519-284-3556 for information.