It was the kind of snowy day that required the highest boots and the softest mittens. A shovel-three times kind of day. Stay home and do not risk the trip outside before the snow stops during the day. The type that Toronto, in short, does not see too often, and one that will definitely make an impact in the history books.
At 19.00, 36 cm. snowfall was officially recorded in downtown Toronto, while Pearson International Airport reported 33 cm. to have fallen. The total snowfall for Monday recorded 29.2 cm.
Vehicles were stranded across the GTA Monday for as many as eight hours as Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway closed under load. The Canada Post service was suspended in large parts of the province. TTC struggled through the day, with many jammed buses observed around town. Toronto library departments, COVID-19 vaccine clinics, and outdoor ice rinks were among the closures. About a third of arrivals and departures from Pearson Airport were canceled.
And, perhaps most painful for many families, a long-awaited return to the classroom was rejected after weeks of online learning forced by Omicron’s concerns.
“This is truly a one-day wonder,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada.
Exactly where the storm will place itself in the history books depends on where – such as the city center, the airport or the waterfront – you measure. Many over the decades have brought fewer inches but more carnage. For example, no deaths were reported Monday night.
However, Western University history professor Alan MacEachern said there is no doubt the storm was a “unifying one” for Ontario. It is quite unusual, he said, for snow to fall on most parts of the province with such revenge at the same time.
We went to Star’s archives, with some context from MacEachern, to see how this measured itself.
December 11, 1944
The current record holder for most snow falling in a single day, this wartime snowstorm is remembered as “the worst snowstorm Toronto has ever experienced,” according to a Toronto Daily Star article from that day. Nine people died during the storm – probably caused by exertion from walking or shoveling, MacEachern said – which dropped 48.3 inches of snow. Delivery of bread, milk and other goods was made only in a limited emergency or stopped completely.
Storms like this are pretty rare now, MacEachern said, as the city is basically a hot island.
This wartime storm presented unique challenges for the city as many men were away and women worked in factories to support their efforts abroad, he noted.
Factories producing ammunition and other war material were closed for a few days as the city snowed in, and the city called for volunteers – probably women – to shovel the city streets, a task done by hand with shovels rather than modern snow plows.
February 25, 1965
This storm, which was responsible for at least 10 deaths and six heart attacks while people trudged through snowdrifts, was described as the “worst snowstorm in 21 years.” This 1965 storm dropped 39.9 cm of snow over the city, leaving abandoned cars strewn down Toronto highways and closing schools early. The cleanup, estimated to cost $ 1 million, took up most of the week. Eric Cross, a former state attorney general and municipal affairs minister in Ontario, died in Woodstock, Ont., While trying to walk from his stranded car to his home.
Meanwhile, 16 employees of Di Walt Sales Ltd. driven to the hospital after being exposed to carbon monoxide due to snow blocking the plant’s exhaust vents.
January 2, 1999
One of three major snowfalls in a 14-day period, the infamous 1999 storm dropped 38cm in one day, prompting Toronto then-mayor Mel Lastman to call in the army for help clearing the city of its accumulated meters of snow. A total of 550 soldiers were deployed to help shovel and plow, sparking a memorable mockery of the city as Canadians criticized the decision.
“I think he had to,” Phillips said. “I always have the defense (Lastman) on it.”
MacEachern is not quick to defend Lastman’s decision to bring the army in or declare a state of emergency, calling it “an overrun.”
In 1998, Quebec saw an ice storm so large that they called in the army. “Maybe Mel Lastman thought in the direction that this is (Toronto’s) ice storm 12 months later.”
There’s one important detail about this blizzard that people might want to keep in mind: a whole year of snow fell over the city in just one month, Phillips said. On average, Toronto sees about 110 cm of snow each year. In 1999, January alone was 118 cm.
“It was weird because it wasn’t a single storm,” MacEachern said. “It was a couple of storms that were stacked on top of each other over the course of two weeks.”
Cleaning up the storms cost $ 14 million.
January 23, 1966
Toronto spent $ 500,000 and a week of clearing 36.8 inches of snow this storm fell. The airport closed for more than 16 hours and 200 flights were canceled, stranding 7,000 passengers who were forced to seek alternative transportation.
At least five people died of heart attacks caused by shoveling snow.
Meanwhile, a snow-melting machine hired by the city failed deeply in its work and suffered several collapses. Many went skiing to where they were going – something you will still see Torontonians do today.
November 30, 1940
Trams were busy with “the heaviest crowds for years,” said a Toronto Daily Star article about this 1940s storm that dumped 33.5 cm of snow. Drivers left their cars at home and headed for transit, which was driving late, the newspaper reported.
Two were killed during the storm, one of whom died after falling in front of a tram that ran across Lakeshore Ave. The other died of a heart attack. Five were treated at the hospital for snow and ice-related falls.
With files from Astrid Lange, Dorcas Marfo and Ivy Mak