Amid the winter’s snow

My mother, Lorna, in front of a snowbank that as I recall was in front of the Manse, in February 1971. Back when winter meant serious amounts of snow.

My mother, Lorna (who is 5’1″), in front of a snowbank somewhere in the vicinity of the Manse, in February 1971. Back when winter could be counted on to bring serious amounts of snow. (Photo probably by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

Hello from the far side of Christmas! I feel very badly about not having posted these past few days – recounting how Christmas at the Manse unspooled, among other things – but I’ve been sick with the flu since before the big day and have not until now found the energy to fire up the Mac and try to think of something half-intelligent to say. I expect that many readers may have gone through a similar low-energy situation this Christmas; flu and colds seem to have been everywhere. Before long I will recount Christmas, but I await photo contributions from Raymond (I was feeling too crappy to take more than a handful of photos). In the meantime, let’s talk about something even more topical, especially if you happen to be in Montreal this Friday night: snow.

Our street, last night: believe it or not, there is a car under all that snow. Aren't you glad you aren't the person who has to dig it out?

Our street, last night: believe it or not, there is a car under all that snow. Aren’t you glad you aren’t the person who has to dig it out?

Raymond and I drove home from Queensborough yesterday through the blizzard you’ve probably all heard about, a scary (and long) drive featuring a steady steam of cars and tractor-trailers – and one bus, one ambulance, and even one snowplow – off the road and stuck in the ditch. Was it a relief to get to Montreal? Well, yes – except the city had been blanketed by a record snowfall, approaching 50 centimetres, the streets were a disaster, the sidewalks worse, and finding a place to park impossible. Just what you want when you’ve got a car full of Christmas to unload and only street parking at the best of times.

Anyway, we managed. One always does. And the huge snowfall brought back a couple of good growing-up-at-the-Manse memories.

One is of how our Queensborough-area neighbour Bill Holgate would every now and then, after a big snowfall, come unannounced and blow the snow out of the driveway. Normally it was all about shovelling for us, and we four kids had to do our share to keep the walkway, driveway and mailbox cleared out. But it was a big long driveway, and after a really heavy snowfall it was a huge job. So what a delight when out of the blue on an evening like that (it’s always evening for the snowblowing events in my memory) Bill would show up with his big tractor-driven snowblower and clear it all away. And the best part (for us kids) was not even the fact that we wouldn’t have to shovel; it was cavorting under the blowing snow as Bill did the work. Snowblowers were not that common then – certainly nobody had the kind that you operated just by walking behind it – and the whole operation was just so big and noisy and exciting! And it was so kind of Bill to come and clear out the snow at the minister’s house. Of course he never charged my parents any money for it.

And the other memory, quite possibly coloured by the fact that I was little then and no longer am, is just of how much more snow there was in those days – see the photo at the top of this post. But then again, doesn’t every old fogey say that there used to be more snow back in his or her day? And doesn’t what Raymond and I came home to yesterday kind of undermine that things-aren’t-what-they-used-to-be argument?

And more to the point, am I turning into an old fogey?

11 thoughts on “Amid the winter’s snow

  1. I will never forget “The Winter Of The Big Snow”. 1971 was the year that I spent 5 mo. in England. The last storm in Feb., took two tractors 8 hrs. to clear lanes on the farm. Feb 28 I left for England, telling Gayle that, with March starting tomorrow, spring is on its way. This area had 28″ of snow in the next two weeks! Guys were still snowmobiling to our camp the first week in April and some wag rode his snowmobile over the roof of our camp. Yes it was deeper in the old days!!

    • Wow! So that photo of my Mum in front of the snowbank was from the year of “the big one.” I heard some people in Montreal talking about 1971 the other day, so it must have been a memorable winter here too. Seems to me – as I look out my window and see yet more snow falling on Montreal – that “memory” is the right place for weather like that. As opposed to “here and now.”

  2. The winter of 1971 was our first in Queensborough [we arrived in Nov/70]. Having come from near Newmarket, we were delighted by all of the snow and thought it was normal for eastern Ontario. Little did we know that that winter was quite an anomaly, snow-wise.

    • Quite an introduction to rural Ontario! I didn’t know what year it was that your family arrived in Queensborough, Graham – that’s interesting. Id be interested to have you cast your memory back and share your first impressions of your new home!

      • Is there a climatologist in the house? As a matter of fact there is. Me. So I wondered how snowy was Winter 70/71? The photo of Mrs S is pretty impressive I will grant you. Speaking of Grant he was in England, getting anecdotal tales from Gayle. And Graham was just 11, new to Queensborough and impressionable. So I looked to the official records. Believe it or not Queensborough did have a climate/weather station – alas it recorded data from 1914-1946, no doubt a fascinating period but not helpful for wintry 70/71. Madoc also had a station which ran from 1903 – 1969 – oh so close but we need the real thing. What about Tweed? Goldmine! 1925-1972. Just under the wire but good enough. So here’s the goods: Nov 9.4 cm, Dec 116.3 cm (1/4 of that on Dec 16 – must have been a ‘snow day’, Jan 69 cm, Feb 91 cm, March 62.8 cm, April 4.1 cm. A whopping total of 352.6 cm OR in units of the day, 11.6 feet! So yes that was a lot of snow. The Great Blizzard of 1999 (January) was less than 1/3 of this and we (pathetic) Torontonians brought in the army!

      • Oh wow, Bill, that is amazing! Thank you! (How very helpful to have a climatologist in the house.) This totally explains why my grandfather (my mum’s dad) would have thought the most interesting place to take her photo on or near her birthday in February 1971 (when she was turning all of 37 years old) was the snowpile in front of the Manse. It was a remarkable winter! Now, speaking of Queensborough weather: you may be interested to know (if you don’t already) that on the weather app that comes with the iPhone, you can get Queensborough (as opposed to Madoc, or Tweed) weather information. And as far as I can tell it is bang-on. And as far as I can also tell, lots of places larger than Queensborough do not have an entry in the iPhone weather app. Which leads to the obvious question: who is keeping and providing this up-to-the-minute Queensborough weather information? That is a question for, perhaps, a climatologist like yourself; or maybe a journalist, such as myself; or maybe just a curious person, which could be anybody. We need to know!

      • I have sources deep in Environment Canada (former graduate students) – I will find out! Nothing like a challenge.
        I have an iPhone as well and sure enough Queensborough can be found on the weather app. Now I have added Tweed and Madoc to my iPhone as well. Somewhat suspiciously all three have the same current conditions and same forecast. I have added in Actinolite (Queensborough’s nearby Elzevir arch-rival) and once again the same. Hmm, beginning to think that iPhone is pandering to us. Weathergate. We are on to something.
        I might do a comparison of coincident historical climate data of Queensborough, Tweed and Madoc to see if Queensborough has its own unique microclimate. Bet it does, it is that kind of place. I know your readers are eagerly awaiting the results.

      • Excellent to have a weather sleuth on the case! I think you will find, Bill, that while the Queensborough weather on the iPhone is often the same as that for Madoc and Tweed, just as often it is slightly different from one or the other or both. I would just love to know if someone here in Queensborough was filing reports to Environment Canada! (And then of course the question is: who?) You might be interested to know that the “weather guy” on CJBQ Radio (AM 800, Belleville and Trenton), whose name is Kevin Williams and who is excellent, was the guest on the station’s morning call-in show one day recently and had some intriguing things to say (as reported to me by Raymond, who heard the show). Williams, who is a forensic meteorologist (and isn’t that interesting?) is actually based across Lake Ontario from Belleville in Rochester, N.Y., but demonstrates through his intelligent weather reporting every day (and also did during the talk show) that he is extremely familiar with our area. One thing he said is that there is very definitely different weather “north of 7” (that would be Highway 7, of course) than south of it, which is something Raymond and I have already observed – rain south of 7 and snow north, for instance. But he also said that the weather can be quite different in Tweed and Madoc at any given time, even though they’re only a few miles apart. It would be most intriguing – and, as you say, perhaps fitting – if Queensborough had its own microclimate. We await more news from you!

      • Yes right you are. The forecasts appear to be the same the observations are not always the same – after one day’s worth of checking. I note that the app is supplied by The Weather Network which is a private venture but which uses Environment Canada data. I will get to the bottom of this!

  3. Ok, here are some preliminary results. First the Madoc data proved to be unuseable – too many data gaps, lack of coincident time periods. However with Tweed, we have over 20 years of concurrent data (1925-1946). During that time period the average daily temperature was 1oC cooler for Queensborough than Tweed. As most of your readers will know, Queensborough is further north (15 km or so) and it is also 50 m higher. The difference is greater during the day than at night. There are some seasonal variations. One interesting feature is that Queensborough is actually a bit warmer at night during the months of Dec, Jan and Feb (although decidedly colder during the day for the same months) – this is a feature of the Queensborough’s micro-climate I need to explore!

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