The Day Winnipeg was Paralysed

by George Siamandas


If you are over 40 and have lived in Winnipeg your whole life you likely remember the Blizzard of 1966. It occurred on Mar 4, a Friday and it shut down Winnipeg like it had never been shut down before. The buses stopped running. Snowmobiles took nurses and doctors to work and thousands of people were stuck downtown and slept overnight at Eatons and the Bay.


The winter of early 1966 was the third coldest year of the century, with 1950 and 1917 even colder. January 1966 tied January 1875 for the coldest month since records were kept at Red River. In February 1966 Winnipeg reached -49 the lowest February temperature ever recorded and the second coldest day ever. Winnipeg did not see the temperature go above zero for 90 days. But the year till then was without much snow.


Snow started to fall after midnight on Thursday and despite the heavy snow, on Friday morning March 4, people still went to work. But by mid morning the streets were impassable. The buses were called in by 11:00 am. and would not return to the streets till the next Saturday morning. Schools closed for the Friday and the following Monday as did stores, restaurants and theatres. The big storm piled up 14.6 inches and was driven by winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour. This was the worst winter storm since March 1902. Eight foot high drifts were reported in the new suburb of Westwood. After the cleanup the plows created 12 foot high walls of snow along Ness Ave. Hundreds of cars were reported stranded on the Transcanada Highway. The Grain Exchange did not open for the first time in its 61 year history.



Mayor Juba was awakened by a CJOB reporter and told of the blizzard. He was able to make his way to City Hall in his big Cadillac where he set up an emergency headquarters. By afternoon city hall itself had become a shelter for people that could not make their way home. Chief George Blow urged people to stay off the streets

Snowmobiles were given to the police. Volunteers operated snowmobiles to take people to hospital and to deliver drugs to patients. CB radios were used for the first time to create an emergency communications network. Ken Dunston was CBC radio's man that morning and the station became part of the emergency civil defence network. Unable to get home, CBC staff stayed at the Mall hotel for the night.



The buses were pulled off the streets. Soon those that could not walk home were stuck wherever they were. Thousands of people were stranded at City Hall and at Stores like Eatons and the Bay. And 1600 people were reported stranded at Eatons and the Bay. Eatons looked after 700 of its own staff and 400 customers. The women slept on the 9th floor and the men on the 7th. Fifty hockey players from Winnipeg neighbourhoods were stuck in Lorrette.



Two policemen delivered a baby in the North End. How did they get there? With their own front end loader leading the path. Constables Mills and Const Martin both described as "family men" took instruction from a doctor over the phone and helped mother Mrs Herbstreit with the delivery of her baby boy. An emergency call found a doctor located four streets away who went over finding mother and child to be just fine.


Only two deaths were attributed to the blizzard. But 14 had died in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Police Chief George Blow said that he was happy that the crooks had stayed home. And of course there was the $1 million cleanup and finding help to pay for it.



Fortunately flooding was minor but the trees were two weeks later to leaf out and Winnipeg experienced a later spring. The snow was gone by early April, but there was another big snow, (8.7 "), in April and the snow did not melt till May 5th. For many that spring, it seemed summer would never come.



Actually the 1997 blizzard saw more snow fall 43.2 cm Vs 38.1 cm. Other big snowfalls occurred in 1874 with 16.1 inches and 1893 with 14.8.


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