Canada’s worst winter storms of the past century

MAn shovelling snow

We all know Canada isn’t called the “Great White North” for nothing, especially after experiencing last year’s polar vortex. It’s a rare winter season if your day-to-day isn’t affected at some point—whether the kids’ school is closed or your commute home takes longer than usual. Some storms, however, have an even greater impact, putting a complete halt to everyday life.

In the past century, Canadians have seen their fair share of high winds, snow squalls, ice storms, and whiteouts, which are made even worse when they’re combined. Below are 10 of the worst we’ve experienced so far.

Toronto snow storm (1944)

Toronto snow storm 1944

In December of 1944, Toronto set a record for the most snowfall in a single day with 47 cm. Though weather forecasters initially predicted two to four inches of snow, the region of Toronto was blanketed in 57 cm in two days. Huge gale-force winds created large drifts and the resulting snow-covered streets caused factories providing war munitions and supplies to close temporarily. Twenty-one people died, including 13 from overexertion (so be careful when you’re shovelling this winter!).

Prairie snow storm (1947)

On January 15, 1947, the front page of the Regina Leader-Post read: “Province Just One Big Snowdrift,” with a story that detailed continuous blizzards, buried trains, and even towns from Winnipeg to Calgary. The snow started in December and hardly ceased, with blizzards that kept hitting every couple of days. On February 3, Regina set a North American record when temperatures reached negative 60 degrees celsius. All highways in and out of the capital were blocked for 10 days, supplies in and out slowed, and people reportedly began travelling from their house to their shed via snow tunnel. Some rural roads and railways in Saskatchewan remained closed until spring.

Winnipeg snow storm (1966)

Winnipeg snow storm
Photo courtesy of store.winnipegfreepress.com

On March 4, Winnipeg learned that snow isn’t the monopolizing contributor to storms—wind plays a major part. Of all the provincial capitals, Winnipeggers know how to handle winter weather, so 35 cm in one day might sound like a lot, but it’s nothing major. The problem came with the accompanying 120 km/h gusts of wind that caused limited visibility and blocked all highways in Southern Manitoba for two days. All airport traffic was cancelled and the mayor publicly warned everyone to stay home.

Southern Alberta blizzard (1967)

In late April of ’67, Alberta received a record-breaking 175 cm of snow in less than two weeks. Farmers were some of the hardest hit, as livestock were freezing in open fields and supplies became scarce. Food, fuel, and feed were eventually airlifted to the province, and army units were dispatched to help with snow clearing. Albertans also received a 2-week extension on their income tax deadline that year.

Montreal’s “storm of the century” (1971)

Montreal storm of 71
Photo courtesy of montrealgazette.com

The snowstorm that hit Montreal on March 4, 1971 is one of the largest ever recorded. A combination of 47 cm of snowfall and 110 km/h winds caused massive two-storey snowdrifts and left some areas without electricity for 10 days. Seventeen deaths were attributed to the weather, though the most surprising thing might be the fact that a Montreal Canadiens home game was cancelled. (The only other time this happened was during the flu epidemic in 1918). Five-hundred-thousand truckloads of snow was eventually hauled out of the city.

Niagara blizzard (1977)

On January 29, 1977, the Niagara region declared a state of emergency after Western New York and the Niagara Peninsula were met by 60 cm of snow and 80 km/h winds for days. Days later, the U.S. followed suit and declared a federal disaster in New York.

Montreal ice storm (1998)

Montreal ice storm
Photos courtesy of archives.concordia.ca

The ice storm in Montreal is one of the Canada’s most famous. Today, pictures of streets with literally everything coated in 10 cm-thick ice are beautiful and almost ethereal, but the realities of the storm were quite different for many Canadians. Between January 4 and 10, Montreal gained 100 cm of snow alongside five days of freezing rain and ice pellets. Toppled telephone poles and power lines left 1 million people across Eastern Ontario, Southern Quebec, and New Brunswick without power—some for as long as a month. Twenty-five people died due to the storm and Montreal alone reportedly spent $3 billion on cleanup.

Snowfall record in Tahtsa Lake, B.C. (1999)

In one day, British Columbia’s Tahtsa Lake saw more snow than Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg typically see in an entire year. On February 11, the lake area near Prince George received a shocking 145 cm of snow, breaking the record for the largest 24 hour snowfall measured in Canada.

Toronto calls in the army (1999)

Every major city seems to have its “snowstorm of the century,” and as we all know, Toronto’s resulted in then-mayor Mel Lastman infamously calling for military assistance to clear the roads. On January 9, 1999, Canada’s largest city received 39 cm of snow, and it kept coming for weeks. Total snowfall for January reached 118 cm, which is more than the city typically receives over two years. Public transit was disabled, schools and businesses were closed, and snow removal cost twice the annual proposed budget.

Southern Ontario ice storm (2013)

Photo courtesy of globalnews.ca

Last year, winter arrived early and never left or faltered.Though it makes us feel pretty tough having lived through one of the worst so recently, we’re happy to have left the polar vortex behind. Hamilton and Kenora, Ontario broke records for the coldest temperatures, Toronto had more consecutive days of snow on the ground, and it was Winnipeg’s second-coldest winter ever. The storm that hit Southern Ontario just before Christmas resulted in picturesque ice-covered trees and branches that then fell on power lines, houses, cars, and roads. Streets and roads covered in ice and snow were carved out between snowbanks more than 2 metres tall.