How do you like all the snow we got recently?
Last week, I heard more than one person say “Oh, this is nothing like the snow we used to get in Barrie years back!”
So, is it true then – was the snow actually half way up the telephone poles, or was I just a whole lot shorter?
After reading a piece in the Barrie Examiner, by Fred W. Grant, published on December 22, 1927, I started to wonder – if this pile of snow we have right now is “nothing like the old days” according to Barrie residents who remember the mid 20th Century, exactly how bad were the winters of Mr. Grant’s youth in the late 1800s?
“People who complain about the weather in Ontario nowadays know nothing about real cold weather.” He then quoted someone he called a ‘grizzled old authority’ as saying “Why, back in the 70’s in Ontario the thermometer sank to 45 degrees below zero regularly and remained at that level for several days. And one New Year’s Eve the mercury hit 50 below. These days were the days when men were men, and ‘spats’ were unknown, and wavy and wiry whiskers were as common as bobbed hair now, and the before breakfast shave was carried out only after thawing a chunk of ice on the kitchen stove for hot water, and we often awoke in the morning to find shoes and other things frozen to the floor. I’ve seen it so cold in a house that water only a few feet from a red-hot stove would freeze solid. We do not get as heavy a snow fall now either. In 1885, it snowed so heavily that persons riding in railway coaches couldn’t see a thing except an unbroken wall of snow rising up on either side of the car. Farmers had to dig trails through the immense drifts and when they drove through, all they could see were the horses’ ears above the snow line.”
It is hard for us to imagine, in this era of forced air heating, triple glazing windows and 4-wheel drive vehicles, the conditions that the people of Barrie and the surrounding townships experienced during winter, some of it within the living memory of our elder citizens. It must have been hard – really hard!
On December 12, 1929, these two snippets of Simcoe County life appeared in the Northern Advance.
‘WEST ORO It certainly looks like lots of snow for Christmas. The roads are very heavy and the mailman has been taking a holiday for the past two weeks, but is back on the job again.’
‘HILLSDALE The bus got away on Sunday after being snowed in here for ten days. Two snow plows came down from the north and plowed a way out for it.’
Very few of us today, have ever experienced being truly snowed in, with no way out, no way to work or the grocery store, no school, mail or public transport of any kind, for days or even weeks. Of course, the hardy folks around these parts were always well prepared for this eventuality. They stocked up on wood, food stuffs, animal feed and anything else that they might need if they found themselves stuck at home.
Not everyone viewed winter as a hardship, and certainly not the kids who had visions of snow forts and tobogganing. When not in school, or doing chores like chopping firewood or carrying in coal, they were always in search of the highest and fastest snow hill. Mr. Roy Pringle of Barrie lived to be 62 years of age, but his life was nearly over before it really began, when he took his sledding daredevilry to a new level one day in 1939. The Northern Advance reported the near miss on January 3 of that year.
‘Roy Pringle, seven-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pringle of Dunlop St., had a narrow escape from death on Wednesday when sleigh riding down the Mulcaster St. hill towards the C.N.R. tracks. The little lad had just taken a flying trip down the hill and become stuck between the rails as the southbound four o’clock train arrived. Fortunately, the boy was able to free himself and the sled just in time to avoid disaster. Engineer Thos. Devine reported the matter to the authorities. Police have now issued a warning against children using the hill for sleigh riding. Any found doing so in the future will have their sleighs confiscated, Chief Alex. Stewart declares.’
As I write this, the view from my front window tells me that another typical Barrie is here – if there is such a thing. The fluffy white stuff is falling quickly now, looking very much like end the result of a pillow fight gone too far. I think I will do today, what the wise folks of old Barrie used to do on a day like this – just stay in. I will write, perhaps build a wood fire or bake something, but definitely no tobogganing for me!
Stay warm and Merry Christmas!
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.