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City held captive during blizzard of ’66

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"Winter nights are long, summer days are gone." Randy Bachman sums up Winnipeg’s weather well in his song Prairie Town.

For those weary of yet another Winnipeg winter, it may help to remember that we have had worse. Anyone over 50 may recall the blizzard of 1966 that swept through the city shutting it down in a matter of hours.

The snow started shortly after midnight Thursday and by 10:30 a.m. then-Mayor Steve Juba had issued a warning for everyone to stay at home. Winnipeg’s buses stopped running at 11 a.m.

Schools closed. So did many businesses. All was quiet. The clang and clatter of construction ceased, signs were toppled, huge snow drifts and abandoned cars were everywhere and trapped buses were filled with "eerily immobile bodies," wrote Raymond Sinclair in the Winnipeg Free Press.

The biggest problem was getting employees who had ventured out to work back home Friday evening. Vehicles and buses stuck in the snow filled the roadways.

Two men died of heart attacks during the worst part of the blizzard while trying to walk home.
Bus drivers kept their engines running to keep passengers warm and eventually found shelter in neighbouring homes along with their passengers. More than 130 buses were reported stuck.

Many women who were unable to get assistance to hospitals were reported later to have given birth in their homes.

Two local police officers did make it to one Lansdowne Avenue home with the help of a front end loader and there delivered  a baby boy with instructions from a doctor over the phone.

Flights to and from Winnipeg’s airport were cancelled. Highways were blocked. Hundreds of cars were stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg. Police and ambulance vehicles repeatedly became bogged down in the drifts. Soon snowmobiles were sent to deal with emergencies.

Hotels in the downtown area were bursting at the seams with employees unable to get home Friday. More than 1,500 stranded people were sheltered, fed and played cards in Eaton’s and the Bay that night.

One North End resident remembers walking to Sisler High School after the blizzard on "snow that was so deep and high that I was walking along at the same height as the bungalow rooftops."

A River Heights youngster, at the time, Sherry Gluting, recalls "jumping off the roof of the school into the snow drifts the next day. My husband says that he and his friends went out in it because it was so neat."

About 35 centimetres fell overall, swept around by winds gusting sometimes up to 109 km/h. A 1986 storm dropped 36 centimetres of snow on the city and the blizzard of 1997 dumped 48 centimetres.

The Manitoba Book of Everything says Winnipeg ranks as the world’s coldest city among centres with a population greater than 500,000 and Manitoba as the snowiest prairie province.

But Manitoba ranks only eighth in the country for snow and is second only to Saskatchewan in hours of sunshine per year and first in numbers of clear skies.

So fellow Winnipeggers, cheer up, it’s not that bad, for "Grey skies are going to clear up" and

"The sun will come out tomorrow."

Cheryl Girard is a Riverbend-based writer who loves to write about all things Manitoban.
Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Times area and would like to contribute to this column, contact jim.timlick@canstarnews.com.

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