Digging in – Digging Out






The recent ‘lake effect’ snowstorm which buried poor Buffalo, yet again, has served to remind me of a similar piece from my past.  Lake effect snow is caused by (relatively) warm winds blowing across still-unfrozen water, and then over much colder landmass, which causes the moisture to condense and freeze.  Once the Great Lakes freeze over completely, snowfall is greatly reduced.

In November and December of 1957, Lake Huron, warmer than usual from a hot summer had not yet frozen over.  Storm after storm came rolling across the lake from Michigan, so that we could blame the Americans, as they often do Canada, for the terrible weather.  A 150 mile swath of lakeshore and inland towns were buried under feet of snow.

Now being bused to a high school five miles away, I experienced my first ‘snow day’ on a Wednesday, when the bus couldn’t get through.  Before our days of television, I was at home with my mother, when we heard on the radio that the roof of an arena in a town 50 miles southeast had collapsed, killing several children and a skating coach, and injuring several others.

On Friday afternoon, as we dismounted the now-running school bus, the town’s Police Chief informed several of the members of the Boys’ Club, that there was a BYOS party being organized.  At 10 AM Saturday morning we were to bring (Y)our own shovels, and assemble at the town’s (natural ice) arena to shovel snow off the roof to prevent a similar disaster happening in our town.

Before the advent of aluminum scoops and shovels, snow was moved with heavy, awkward, steel garden spades, or square-mouthed coal shovels.  The next morning, about 25 of us showed up with an ill-assorted mix of tools.

I hadn’t thought about our task, or the reason given for it, until I arrived at the arena.  The collapsed one down the road had a low-domed roof, which allowed the accumulation of a significant snow load.  Our arena had a 90° roof, with a 45°slope on each side.  Snow just didn’t accumulate.

After it had been built, a two ice-sheet curling rink had been added to one side.  It was this annex, with its 7° roof, that we were assigned to save.  Not many school-kids at risk here, but many of the privileged members were also the well-off citizens and business owners who donated to, and supported our club.  That was as good a reason as any.






The snow on the roof was 3 to 5 feet deep.  It needed to be cleared off.  A ladder was leaned against the side of the building.  If it had been up to me, I’d have sent one guy up to reduce the weight, and clear a space for another shoveler, and so on, and so on.  It wasn’t….so the Police chief went up, kicked his way into the snow and called the rest of us up to join him.  Soon we had 25 teenage boys, and two adult men on the roof.  If it was going to collapse, this is when it would have happened.

My fisher-boy schoolmate attacked the piles of snow like a Tasmanian Devil, his sharp steel shovel and snow flying in all directions – except actually off the roof.  He was a safety hazard, not to be got too close to.  Within five minutes, he rapidly tired, and really accomplished very little, but he was the one who impressed the Game Warden enough that he was the only one mentioned when the tale was told, for years.

The rest of us soon organised a much more efficient system.  Starting at the roof edge we cut 2 foot square blocks, like for an igloo, and slid them off the smooth roof. Then others would move up and cut more blocks, and slide them down, to be pushed over the edge.  Soon we had several crews cutting, pushing and dumping.  The roof was cleared and our civic duty done by noon.

The side of the building that we dumped snow from was a town works-yard, with piles of sand and fine gravel that crews used to cast concrete water culverts, as well as dozens of finished units.  By the time we were finished, these were all covered, and there was a 20-foot high, 50-foot wide pile of snow about the same slope as the now-clear roof.  I don’t know if they did any water work before June.

Do those of you who live in snow country have white horror stories?  Will those of you who don’t, stop snickering!

20 thoughts on “Digging in – Digging Out

  1. Paul says:

    I once spent the better part of a week in the parking lot of a service station/restaurant in the small town of Doyles Newfoundland when they had 125 INCHES (over 300 cms) of snow wth high winds in two days. Long story that turned out well. The Trans Canada re-opened with one lane and wide spots for opposing traffic to pass in 6 days. It took 3 months to clear all the roads back to the shoulders – no place to put it all.Some rock cuts filled in level – 20+ feet of snow on the road. They used big airport blowers -imported from all over eastern Canada – to blow pathways open. Where the snow was deeper than 10 feet, they put small track bulldozers on top and kept pushing the snow down to the blowers until they reached ground level. It was a challenge travelling Newfoundland for the rest of that winter.


    • Archon's Den says:

      This post was more about the self-serving lies that those in power tell, especially to youngsters. I know that our weather can be ‘interesting’, but we’re wimps compared to The Rock. While I surprise the occasional visitor with the amount of food and drink in our utility room, folks in Nfld. have to be serious about it – and fuel. Road signs in South Carolina say “Bridge freezes first.” Damned amateurs. 😀


      • Paul says:

        Ha! You’ve been I see. Ha! they are wonderful people so open and giving but their environment sure leaves a lot to be desired, especially when one is trying to make a living there. Lord tunderin’ me son, me son.


  2. Dan Antion says:

    As I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder how much trouble with administrators, lawyers and parents a person with such an idea today would find themselves in? We (kids) were often “loaned out” to help neighbors, churches and just about anybody who needed help for this kind of thing. The idea that we were part of a community was strong.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Sounds like you’re an old-time small town boy too. You’ve raised a new-age concern. The word of the day is no longer ‘community’, but ‘Litigation.’ The Uber, non-taxi ride system is being attacked on that basis. “They’re not adequately insured!” 😦


  3. You should have been here in Buffalo, NY last week. I could have recommended a nice motel in the Southtowns. But they’ve dug out now, so you would have gotten home eventually.


  4. Jim Wheeler says:

    For my last tour in the Navy we moved to the Boston area in 1979. The locals were still talking about the great snow-fall of 1978 and the stories had us worried. There had been cars buried so deeply on the Massachusetts Turnpike that rescuers had to search for them by using long poles to probe. So they said. Others had to exit their houses through second-story windows. I considered getting snow tires, but I didn’t and, as it turned out, we didn’t need them.

    In a way, I’m grateful for extreme weather. It’s about the only thing anymore that people can agree on to be angry about. 🙄


  5. I remember the blizzard of ’77, I was on a bus on hwy 401 and just after we exited (I was traveling from Hamilton to London) the hwy was shutdown. There were many other days as a teenager when the city buses could not get up the escarpment and I would have to walk a quite a few kilometres to get home. They were fun days. Now we don’t really get any snow like we use to, and I miss it.


  6. garden2day says:

    I snickered, I admit, but it was because of the kid…I’m surprised you didn’t push him off and say it was an accident or bury him in the snow 😉 . I feel for people with so much snow and wet snow… I’m still suffering from effects from our ice storms this year–did I ever say how much I HATE ICE?

    Yeah, the signs do say, “Bridge freezes before road” and are up all year. We snicker about that sometimes when it is over 37 C (about 100 F). They are the diamond caution type but they used to be hinged years ago. On the outside they said, “Drive safely” until opened by the road crew who came around to de-ice the bridges and overpasses. 😀

    Yes, here we go. Those of you in the north call us in the south–amateurs. Well, I’m no amateur when it comes to snow but guess what…we don’t have as much snow as you do–lol…(couldn’t resist) 😀 . Yeah and I think it was over 23 C today. 🙂 Don’t hate me. I’m cold….


    • Archon's Den says:

      Did you start off up north, to be used to ice and snow? You can even translate F. to C. Are you a lost Canadian??! What do you think of when I say poutine? 😕
      People are often used to what they were raised in. The Nigerian immigrants at the son’s plant wear knit caps while moulding molten plastic on 90 F. days. I worked with a guy who was born and raised 30 miles north of the equator in Uganda. He was always cold too.
      I’d offer to move down and shovel any amount of snow you get, but I can’t get my pensions to be payable outside of Canada. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • garden2day says:

        No, I’m not a lost Canadian 😀 . I am from the southern US. I just happened to marry 2 guys from the north-the last one from the lake region 😦 (I’m trying to right my mistakes 😉 ). My youngest daughter calls me every day urging me to come to Tennessee before Christmas and I know it will snow. :/ (shakes head)

        I’m not used to the heat and I’m getting older and have this thing (a vein disease) where my body turns blue when I get cold which is a lot lately.. 😀 . The doctors told me to wear gloves most of the time but I don’t. They said to be careful that my fingers and toes could fall off 😦 . My kids wear jackets in the summer..we are a weird bunch and have low blood pressure. A knit cap is a little much I think…at least in the summer 😉 .

        Yeah..shovel a couple of inches (about 5 cm) a year at the most–lol. Oh, except in ’73 when it was over 16 inches (40 cm) in one time–the most they have seen since records were kept. 😀 But, we did have several last winter so who knows. Best of luck this year and stay warm.


  7. benzeknees says:

    I lived in Wpg. – so of course I have stories! Winterpeg is famous for snow!


  8. […] my Digging In – Digging Out(112614) post about heavy snowfalls, I got a comment from a fellow writer who used to truck produce […]


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