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!