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How we (won't) remember it
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How we (won't) remember it

I have no memories of the Blizzard of ’97.

I was 12, which is probably old enough to have formative memories of a major historical event, but there’s just nothing there. I have wracked my brain. Apparently, we got multiple snow days off school. No memory. I have seen the photos of extremely ’90s-looking people shovelling out their cars. Yeah, I got nothing.

I do remember the after. The sandbagging efforts. The highway signs poking out of small oceans where farmland and roads used to be. The clouds of mosquitoes that summer, owing to all the standing water. The Flood of the Century.

A lot of those flood memories are, technically, of watching the news. I wasn’t actually there. The flood was happening to all of us, of course, but it wasn’t happening to me, personally.

Six months before the Blizzard of ’97, my grandma died. She was only 53, which is too young by any metric. Cancer invaded her lungs over the span of a weekend. Thanksgiving.

That, I have vivid memories of. I can tell you what the weather was like the day she died: sunny. I can even tell you what I was wearing when I went to say goodbye at the hospital: my Girl Guides sweatshirt, bright blue with the red insignia. I never wore that sweatshirt again.

Perhaps that personal trauma was jockeying for space in my brain with the collective experience of a generational event and just elbowed it out. I don’t know. But it did get me thinking how we’ll remember this “potentially historic” storm, as the Weather Network is calling it at the time of this writing — and how we’ll remember the COVID-19 pandemic.

Snowstorms are like pandemics in that no one is exempt from them, and you can usually be most helpful by staying home. Snowstorms are also like pandemics in that, even though it’s a collective thing to hunker down and try to survive, it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. It will hit certain people disproportionately harder than others. Everyone will remember it differently — or possibly not at all — depending on their personal experiences. For some, their pandemic memories will be filled with sourdough and Netflix. For others, their memories will be of loss, burnout and illness.

For some, a snowstorm memory might be a cozy snow day spent at home, following the storm via the Twitter hashtag #mbstorm. For others, a snowstorm memory might be giving birth in a snowed-in cul de sac. The point is a “once-in-a-generation event” hits us all differently.

(Blizzards, incidentally, are why I find the use of “snowflake” as an insult sort of funny. Yes, they melt — but if they get enough of their friends together, they can shut down an airport.)

Blizzard of 1997. TransCanada Highway travellers had their work cut out for them. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Files)

Flicking through the paper’s Blizzard of ’97 photo gallery, I thought about the eventual, inevitable COVID-19 pandemic retrospectives — what images will be included, what stories will be told. When the pandemic stops being an active, ongoing crisis — when it’s well and truly in the rear view — the edges will become fuzzy. There will be the hyperbolic histories and the revisionist histories, and eventually, a years-long collective trauma will be boiled down to a clip package of soundbites. Just like this snowstorm, if it proves to be “the worst in decades.”

One of my favourite shows is Mayday which, uh, recreates airline crashes from blackbox recordings and other forensic data (it’s macabre, I know, but fascinating). I remember one episode in which a first responder said his memories of a particular crash scene were drained of colour. They were all in sepia, a way, perhaps, for the brain to protect itself.

It’s interesting to think, too, about what from this time will be drained of colour, and what we’ll forget about completely. Just like I have no memories of the 1997 blizzard — again, a big part of Winnipeg history that I was alive during! — there will be lost memories from this time, too. The stuff our brains will simply filter out and delete completely — especially when the years stack up and there’s no one left from this time to say how it was or wasn’t. It’ll be up to the COVID-19 historians then.

My smudged-lens memories of March 2020 feel distant, already. Perhaps that’s indicative of how we will remember the pandemic, and all the ways in which, eventually, we won’t.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti, Columnist

Jen Zoratti


New favourite band alert! I am absolutely obsessed with Wet Leg, a British indie rock duo composed of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers who just released their self-titled debut on Friday. Every song is a cheeky bop. Listen to the debut single here.

Hester Chambers, left, and Rhian Teasdale of British band Wet Leg perform at Night & Day Cafe in Manchester, England. (Andy Von Pip/Zuma Press/TNS)



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