Do You Remember: The 1947 Late Winter Storm?

Glen Goodhand

Ottawa Journal, March 3, 1947.
[This article appears in the February/March 2020 issue of The SCOOP.]

I vividly recall the late winter snowstorm on the first weekend in March 1947. I was twelve years old and lived in the country, with the nearest store (and other benefits of civilization) being five miles (8 km) away.

Various estimates of total accumulation were bantered about rather freely—the high winds forming drifts complicated accurate measurements—but two feet (62 cm) was the commonly concluded figure. Over 300 schools in Eastern Ontario’s towns, villages, and rural areas were closed “in order to clear the two feet of snow which blanketed the area.”

It was reported that 73,000 miles (110,000 km) of the province’s roads were blocked when the winter storm finally blew itself out after 48 hours. In some areas, road crews didn’t turn a wheel, because the road superintendents maintained that 21 feet (630 cm) was much too much snow to deal with.

Train travel was at a virtual standstill. Five trains got stuck in drifts, while five others were blocked into sidings and went nowhere. Near Ottawa, dozens of passengers were put in limbo when the engine derailed because of ice on the tracks. This had a domino effect, stranding 200 other riders, with their train trapped on a siding.

The Toronto Star published an aerial photo of another train stuck tight, unable to move the huge bank of snow, which was piled so high on either side of the engine, higher than the cab.

In the Napanee area, motorists braved the storm in an attempt to get home, taking eight hours to crawl through blowing snow before finally reaching their destinations. Tractor-trailers were in “dry dock” both here and in Belleville. It was expected to take days to open the roads for safe travel.

In the Picton area, 75 men shovelled ahead of a snowplow for seven hours, to transport a doctor to the home of a young girl who had accidentally fallen on her tricycle and severed an artery.

One newspaper headline humorously noted that “only the stork was on schedule.” Several babies entered the world at an inopportune time—one (near Cobourg) in the back of the expectant parent’s car.

Near tragedy struck in the Pickering area. A man abandoned his stuck car and took off across the fields, only to fall into a snow-filled gully, sinking until the white stuff was nearly over his head. He was fortunately rescued by two young men who discovered his plight. Others were not so lucky, as at least six perished from varying hazards caused by the blizzard.

Inconvenience reigned supreme, with food and fuel supplies out of reach. Rural mail was curtailed for more than a week. Fortunately, temperatures were not extreme, hovering slightly above the freezing mark.

I have four personal memories of the storm of ‘47. First, being able to stand on the snowbanks on our County road, able to touch the top of the telephone poles poking through the drifts. Second, accompanying my father along with two dozen neighbourhood men, to shovel ahead of the plow, to free a family for the funeral of a loved one. Third, there was a drift that reached from the centre of our farmhouse front lawn right up to the floor of the balcony that was 12 feet (360 cm) above ground. Finally, two men from the next farm down the road skied five miles (8 km) to the village store to get supplies.

Could anything good ever result from such a crisis? For kids, there was no school for at least a week. For adults, there’s the saying that “crisis brings out the best in us!” That was indeed the case in March 1947, as our community spirit flourished.
Single-lane traffic on Hwy 6 near Owen Sound following a major winter snowstorm (March 10, 1947)