Have you ever noticed that snowfall scenes in the movies are dreamy and romantic? Fluffy snowflakes fall gently onto a perfect winter setting, and everyone is excited that it’s snowing.
You can be sure that County residents have a more realistic view of snow. We know that those beautiful white flakes will pile up to create mountains of snow that clog our driveways and roads. Shoveling snow and scraping icy windshields in the freezing cold isn’t my idea of a romantic setting.
Many of us long-timers have endured some of the worst snowstorms on record. This story is a recollection of two of the worst snowstorms that locals are still talking about.
1947: the year the snow never ended
In December 1947, a huge, historic storm dumped record levels of snow on the northeastern United States and southern Ontario.
I wasn’t born yet, but the older generation can’t forget this winter. My father-in-law could recall when feed was air-dropped for the livestock because the roads were impassable.
The snow was so deep, you could apparently touch overhead telephone lines (not that it was advisable to do so). People dug tunnels to their outhouses. The County was cut off from the mainland for 5 straight days.
Supplies became scarce. Food, medical supplies, fuel, and feed were eventually air-dropped to rural communities, and army units came to the rescue to help with snow clearing.
So the next time the old-timer in your family starts rattling off stories about walking miles to school in the snow, and it was uphill both ways … you can believe some of it!
1977: the White Death Blizzard
I remember this winter storm on a more personal basis. We had just moved to Cressy, about 25 km east of Picton. Our daughter was a few months old at the time. Gale-force winds choked the roads with dense snowdrifts — we were blocked in for three days. This was my introduction to winter in the country!
Here’s how this record event unfolded …
On January 28 several feet of packed snow was already on the ground. The roads had been cleared after a snowstorm earlier in the day, and people went about their usual routines. This was a lull in the weather, the real storm struck suddenly during the day Friday. Blowing and drifting snow made roads impassable, and stranded many vehicles.
The blizzard shut down the entire Quinte area (also much of Ontario and western New York state), except for snowmobiles. Winds gusted up to 111 km creating wind chills of −51 to −57 °C and causing extreme drifting. The brutally cold wind howled for two days.
The aftermath left country roads plugged with dense snowdrifts. My husband was checking on neighbours by snowmobile, and picking up food and medical necessities. This scene was repeated all over the County, with neighbours helping out neighbours and people making the best of the situation.
The storm was widespread, with deadly consequences in the Niagara peninsula and western New York. The prevailing westerly winds swept across Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, dumping huge piles of snow on those communities. About 2,000 students were stranded in the Niagara region. 29 deaths were reported as a result of the storm, many due to heart attacks. Roofs collapsed under the immense weight of the snow. Some of the largest snowdrifts didn’t melt away until June!
In the County, snowplows could not make an impact on the tightly packed snowdrifts. The huge snowblowers from CFB Trenton were called in to cut tunnels through the dense drifts. Cleanup took about three weeks, with local snowplow operators working long hours.
Forty years later, locals still remember
Our followers at [email protected] have shared their recollections about the winter of ’77. Apparently the memories are still vivid. We heard from over 60 followers and the post was shared 44 times. Thank you to all the people who posted their stories …
The snow was so deep …
Steve C: I walked into Cherry Valley from Cove Beach on day 5. I used the hydro lines at eye level to guide me. Ran out of smokes. Dave Leavitt’s store was open. The snowplow driver had been stuck there for 2 days.
Penny W: I was working and living on “the hill”. While walking into work one night I tripped over something, looked down and it was the street sign. The snow banks were to the second story of houses.
Carol R: My brother and sister in law had to get out of their house from the top window of their house, the snow covered their door.
Doug B: Wow! Remember that one well. Had to crawl out a bathroom window for a few mornings to shovel our outside door out so we could get outside.
Wolf B: We were living in Bloomfield. Monday when it stopped we had snow up to the second storey windows. Neighbour Ben Prinzen rescued us with his tractor blower.
Alene T: Remember it well. Lots of snow days during that storm. CFB Trenton coming down to plow the roads. Strangers being stranded and ended up at our door. Neighbours with snowmobiles checking on us. Remember going out and the snow was so high it buried the pick-up, all that was visible was the very top of the cab. Dad not allowing us out to go to the barn until he plowed a trail.
Bev H: Let the dog out for a pee and the wind was so strong the dog blew over. LOL !
People were stranded …
Lori F: We were living in Bayside and my mom picked my brother and I up early and then we went to get my dad from work at CFB Trenton. By the time we got there, the base closed down and wouldn’t let us leave. We spent the night in the Officers VIP room!
Wolf B: We lived in Bloomfield at the time. Started on Friday and ended on Monday. We took in 2 friends who could not get home to Sheba’s Island. Humongous drift on County Rd 12.
Barb V : We lived on Danforth Road in Hillier and our parents went to town to get groceries and were stuck there for 2 days..they stayed at friends and myself and 2 sisters had to go across the road to grandma and grandpas..we couldn’t see a thing…was off school for 2 weeks!!
Michelle D: We lived in the Outlet Road on Log Cabin Point Road, we were snowed in for days. I think it might have been over a week. Not a lot of groceries for a family of six. We could barely open the front door after a few days. It was a very scary situation. My mom to this day, does not let her fridge or freezer become empty. We have pictures where the snow banks are as high as the hydro lines and we are standing on top of them.
Gloria S: My parents were living in Picton, I came for a visit and stayed for four extra days. Roads closed ! Wish I had taken pictures, but we were too busy shovelling snow, and trying to keep the fires going. An experience not to be forgotten. I can still see the very large snowbanks from the plows when they finally got through on Hwy 49.
Betty C: My dad was stuck at work in Trenton for a week. My mom was alone home with my little sister and me. She had to milk the cows, the water froze up in the barn. She carried water into the barn for the cows.
Bev H: Took me two days to get home from work. Got rescued by snowmobile.
Wolf B: I also remember that a woman living east of County Rd 12 went into labour. She and her husband set out for he hospital by snowmobile and only got as far as the retirement home near Isaiah Tubbs and gave birth there.
Tony G: I remember it well. Will never forget learning that Gavin Christie had been hurt when a car hit him while he was trying to free up his car from a snow drift at Lake-on-the-Mountain. Poor guy, he suffered for a day or two before a grader could get to where he was to clear a way for the ambulance to take him to the hospital.
Farmers were dumping milk …
Terry S: It was three or four days before the Trenton snow blowers opened the crossroads. Of course, the cows didn`t stop producing milk and the truck was finally able to pick up our milk on the fourth day. Good thing, as I had only an inch of room in the bulk tank!
Sharon G: We were snowed in so bad we were dumping milk out because the milk truck couldn’t pick up.
Kristine C: I was stuck in town. And until we ran out of food, I worked at the Little Red Diner! My Dad was dumping his milk because the bulk truck couldn’t get through. It just kept snowing!!
Dave G: Had a blower mounted on the front of a new White Field Boss, didn’t get a lot of sleep that week. We were lucky with our bulk milk because a milk truck was stranded at the Black River cheese factory so I cleared a path to our milk house and parked the truck there so we had a place to put the milk.
Kids had a long break from school …
Darren B: We built the biggest snow forts and tunnels ever and off school for days. Best winter ever.
Diane K: 7 snow days and to walk around the block we all had to hold hands or we would have gotten lost!
Joanne G: Best part no school for 7 days!!! LOL
Snow plow drivers worked overtime …
Barbara G: OMG we didn’t see Dad for 3 weeks, he slept at the county buildings in a cot; Mom was certainly impressed with his paycheque! It took two graders and two Michigan loaders to plow out the road through Grimmon woods to the cross road and they didn’t even bother plowing it ’til a month or so later — no one lived up there in those days.
Sharon G: My dad plowed snow for Athol township. He was gone for days. We’d get a phone call saying he stopped somewhere for a rest and food. A whole week off school is what I remember.
Alice H: My twin sister and I played Monopoly for days and my mom made the best of it as our dad was also a snow plower for Hillier Township and was gone forever. CFB Trenton plowed us out.
Bill V: I remember seeing the huge snowblower from CFB Trenton, it could shoot snow up over top of a single-story house. Saw it on Hwy 33 west of Picton. The biggest snowblower I’ve ever seen.
Kelly J: I remember the huge snow plough from Trenton Air Base stopping to ask if he was at Long Point yet. He wasn’t even close…
Holly S: The army made it through the back roads and dug us out. My Mom started making them all coffee and sandwiches at 4:30 in the morning. I just remember my Dad shaking all of their hands and all of these army boys coming up the driveway to eat.
Community spirit got us through it …
Pamela C: My dad was out in his snowmobile helping the elderly neighbours, doing small necessity grocery runs for them.
Betty H: My children could not get out of here for near a week, we had got out to go to Florida, not even dreaming our children would get stuck. But, God bless them, they managed just fine and at that time Fennells store was here, and Milt and Mary would let them get whatever groceries they needed.
Janice P: I agreed to stay at PE Heights to ensure residents got their meals throughout the storm.
Bev H: Took me two days to get home from work. Got rescued by snowmobile. I think it was Donny Walmsley that came over to help Sammy make it to their place where he stayed until I got home next day. What a storm and what good neighbours they were.
Linda W: We lived on Royal Road in Milford. Snowed in for a week. Lots of milk though from farmer next door. Snow machines delivered the essentials.
Carolin B: Amazing in situations like this. Everybody pulls together, community spirit and humans realize how powerful mother nature can be.
Sid W: I missed this one (I was in Toronto) and I only arrived in the County in 1985. But I am thoroughly enjoying the reminiscences of hardy County folks and their community spirit of helping each other. Lovely stories!
On a positive note …
A side effect of the prolonged confinement at home was an increase in births at local hospitals the following autumn (almost 18% in Regional Niagara in Canada.) The County’s population has been growing very slowly, perhaps snow storms could be considered a population-booster!
Copyright ©2017 Anne VanVlack, All rights reserved.
Do you have your own story from the Blizzard of ’77 that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below and let people know how you weathered the storm!