Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Remembering the Farm - The Winter of 1955 - 1956

Anyone reading through the local history books of Saskatchewan communities might notice how often the Blizzard of 1955 is mentioned in various family stories. It was an old time three day white out just before Christmas that started one of the stormiest winters I can remember.

The day started out absolutely lovely. Mild, calm, sunny. The kind that killed pioneers who didn’t know better and set out for somewhere on foot or by horse and never made it. I was in Grade Three in the one-room school in Cavell. Miss Veit was the teacher, new in the fall. Dad showed up to take my brother and me home before the storm hit. You could hear it coming. He said Miss Veit should send all the kids home. Miss Veit wasn’t sure about that until the wind hit, grabbed the school front door out of her hand and smashed it to pieces against the wall. School was dismissed.

We got home before the snow started. Dales (Dad’s sister and family) had come to visit and we knew they weren’t going home for a while. Suited me but I have no idea how we made sleeping arrangements in that small house for another four people. Or more.

Old 14 Highway ran past our place at the time. Built in the 1930’s with horse drawn scrapers, it was narrow, with steep ditches. ¼ mile East and ¼ mile West of our farm site, the highway ran through two small hills with very poorly cut banks which trapped snow with every blow, blocking the road. We often had storm-stayed company over night trapped by the drifts in these cuts. Wish my folks were still alive to check with but I think we caught a couple more visitors with this blizzard too, so our house was FULL. For four days until they ploughed open the road.

It blew all winter. The truck mounted V-ploughs made cuts through the snow drifts which filled in higher the next time the wind blew. Our neighbour Martin Glackin was skinning Cat for the RM at the time. The Caterpillar was able to push the snow back in the deepest places and open the road but by March, he had given up. He was pushing snow over 15 to 20 feet high back from the road and it blew in again. The road was closed until spring thaw.

Dad drove us to school in the sleigh or the closed-in cutter for much of the winter.

I know I have some readers who will remember that winter and would appreciate comments and corrections to my story.


  1. In some places (i.e. here in the sticks) it still takes 4 days for the plough to come and open the road... good thing we have big tractors and 4x4 trucks. Without them we'd have to hitch the horses to the sleigh to run the kids to school.

  2. I looked in the Environment Canada climate records and see a 3 day blizzard Dec 12-14, 1955 with winds 70-90k/h and a peak gust of 121k/h one day.

  3. I was not yet born when this event took place but since moving to Saskatchewan over twenty years ago, I have heard accounts of that winter. Dwight Hemmerling remembers it well. He lived a few miles from you in the Cando area. He talks about walking to school on top of the drifts of snow and touching the tops of the telephone/ power poles. He said the snow was too deep to take the horses and cutter for the first while. Ken Olson from Park Valley recounted that winter as well. he said that the trees along the grid roads down either side would trap the snow between them on the road filling it up like a bowl. He said the snow went well over the tops of the trees making it impossible to clear the roads so what the locals did was created "field roads. He said they would take the horses along the higher areas of the fields where the snow wasn't quite as deep allowing them to visit and get out for supplies. Albert York talked about a bachelor neighbor of his in Eavsham that only went out for supplies once a year by oxen and cart. He traveled three days to get to Fort Battleford, stayed a day getting supplies and then traveled three days back home again. I am thinking the deep snow didn't much bother him except that he would have had to dig out the wood pile and cut a path to the barn to feed the stock and do chores. I guess they really were the "good old days!"

  4. I was hoping for comments or corrections from a couple of neighbours but haven't got anything from them yet. Thanks for the information, RTA, DC and Dwayne.

  5. I randomly came across your post while researching Saskatchewan events from December 1955. It's my dad's 60th in a few days and my sister and I are compiling a scrapbook for him. He was born in the Francis/Sedley area. I know it's not exactly local in comparison to where you are from...but if you could give me any other insight on life on the farm that year, I'd really appreciate it!

    1. Hi, Erin. Your dad was born before the big blizzard, I hope. If during, it would make an interesting story. Life on a farm in 1955 would depend n whether or not there livestock, (cattle or pigs) or whether it was just straight grain. Farms were smaller, 8 quarters would be a large farm in those days. Machinery was smaller; tractors in the 40 to 70 Hp range, cultivators 12 to 15 feet, crops were seeded with discers, again 12 to 15 feet. Tractors and combines were open, no cabs and no comfort. Live PTOs and inboard hydraulics were available on some makes or models of tractors but certainly not all. Farm grain trucks were mostly 1 ton, maybe a few three ton though those became more popular in the 60s. Hope this helps a little and that you found others to provide information too.

  6. Our family immigrated to Canada,from England in July of 1955, and Dad's first teaching job was at Holmsdale, Saskatchewan. One room school, two roomed teacherage for our family of six. No electricity, no phone, no water, and as soon as it snowed, out came the horses and sleighs.
    Our nearest town was Craik, and to get there, we had a perilous eight mile journey through Squaw Valley.
    They say that 1955/56 was the worst winter on record Of course it would be. We were caught in the middle of a blizzard and needed to be rescued by a bombardier. We almost lost our lives.
    That was our dramatic first year in Canada.

  7. You were fortunate to be rescued. That storm killed a few people. One of my mom's relatives got stuck and set out walking. After he passed his car again, he realized he was going in circles so stayed put in the car until he was rescued. Another neighbour west of us was not so fortunate.
    Your family was brave to move here to a one room school. There were many isolated schools as you describe. I am glad you survived and I trust prospered.


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