John White: Snowstorm triggers vision of ‘66 blizzard spectacle

Anytime I have to deal with a major dump of snow, I’m reminded of what my dad went through.

Lloyd White (left) wears a makeshift snow shield together with City of Winnipeg coworkers during the blizzard on March 4, 1966. (Don Hunter/Winnipeg Tribune/University of Manitoba Archive)

That was some kind of snowfall Tuesday.

Heavy, wet and relentless snow fell over the entire West Kootenay region. It would have been beautiful if I didn’t have to drive and walk through it and, more importantly, shovel it after it finally settled.

My mid-back was already in spasm during the day before I headed out to throw the slushy mess off of the driveway. It’s funny because just the other day I was bragging to someone about having to shovel just once so far this winter. Well maybe not “funny ha, ha.” More “funny, punch you in the throat, John, for jinxing us.”

So if you’re looking for someone to blame for this latest beautiful blanket of pain, you can point a select finger in my general direction.

I’m incredibly thankful to have an all-wheel-drive vehicle at times like these, together with winter tires. Getting around in the quagmire was fairly easy with that combo.

Anytime I have to deal with a major dump of snow, I’m immediately reminded of what my dad went through back in the winter of 1966 in Winnipeg.

It was March 4, and a massive Colorado low powered through the Prairies, delivering a 15-inch blanket of snow that was whipped high by intense winds. The blizzard caused roof-level snowdrifts to form in several neighbourhoods, and many office workers were stranded downtown.

It was likely the only day in history where your parents would let you toboggan off of the roof of the house, and the only day that it was physically possible.

For my dad, it was a challenge he and his coworkers at the Metro office at the city took on with fervour and an engineer’s eye for ingenuity.

My sister was just a month old and needed milk from the store. There was no way my mom could leave the house, so my dad decided he had to walk home. He and his quick-thinking coworkers took discarded cardboard boxes, plastic sheeting and duct tape, and created weather shields to brace against the winds and blowing snow. They cut out holes for their arms, and put their legs through the open tops of the boxes. Amazing.

It was a sight to behold, the game trio strutting down Main Street in a blizzard, wearing cardboard boxes with slogans on the front like “Home or Bust.” It was such a spectacle, that Winnipeg Tribune photographer Don Hunter captured it in an image that ran on many front pages, including Los Angeles.

He managed to make it to the corner grocery store near the house and buy the necessary items for the baby. He then had to shovel eight-foot-high snowdrifts that almost entirely blocked the front of the house. It wasn’t soft and easy to move, either. With the wind constantly working the snow into a hard pack, it would have been like moving concrete blocks.

The city was paralyzed for days, but somehow my dad was able to make it home and take care of his family.

As I took a break from pushing the foot of snow off of the driveway sidewalk Tuesday, I marvelled at what that must have been like. I don’t miss those Colorado lows and the Arctic highs that would usually push down from the north after such a storm.

But I sure miss my dad’s brilliance and humour in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

You made it home.

 

Tall snowbanks in Castlegar after the Tuesday storm. (John K. White/Castlegar News)

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