Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Blizzard of 1971


Classic images of the Blizzard of 1971 in Montreal. My most vivid weather memories were of the small sidewalk plows like the one in the photo above and the scores of snowmobiles.

As we prepare to enjoy our first round of spring weather, my thoughts are on March 4, 1971, a day that I remember so well. I was only 5 years old when the largest blizzard in Montreal history slammed the city. I spent the day literally in the windowsill of our duplex on LaSalle Boulevard in Verdun watching the events unfold. We were right on the St. Lawrence River and the wind howled down that street. Little did I know that day would spark a lifelong passion in weather. It remains to this day the largest snowstorm to strike this city and parts of the province. The 24 hour snow totals were impressive with 47cm in Montreal and over 60cm in other parts of Quebec and Ontario. Drifts were over 6 feet high. That was just a small part of the story. This storm was an Atlantic nor'easter with the ferocity of a hurricane. The barometric pressure during the height of the storm dropped to 972mb or that of a Category 2 hurricane and winds gusted to over 120km/h in many parts of the St. Lawrence Valley including 110km/h at then Dorval Airport. I spent the day in the window watching snowmobiles go back and forth in the zero visibility for hours rescuing motorists and delivering people to area hospitals. Roads were closed including the 401 and 20 and power was out to thousands of Hydro customers.

I found some photos from a news report by Radio Canada and posted them on this entry.
Here is another link to find out much more on the Blizzard of 1971.

10 comments:

Les_F said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Les_F said...

I remember this storm well.I was 18 at the time & it was a good storm indeed,I still managed to coax my old 63 Chevy Biscayne through the streets,and around abandoned cars etc etc...it was an adventure for us for sure. Although as big as that storm was,I experienced another large storm here in a place that least expected it. Victoria BC in 1996,we had what they refer to as the Blizzard of '96
it was a dandy as well. Montreal at least had incredible snow removal crews in the old days, Victoria was lucky if it had a few graders with plows ,the city was at a stand still for almost a week. Btw: the Montreal storm hit the city hard,one reason,if I recall correctly was that NYC was getting hit with a pile of snow,& so the City of Montreal sent a bunch of snow removal equipment & crews to help New York City get cleaned up,& then Montreal got whacked .......lol
You've got some great old Montreal photos there....glad I came across this blog. Cheers !! Les from Verdun

Allison said...

Although I have no memory of this day I have been told about it at least once a year on my birthday March 4th (1971). It was a very memorable day for my parents:)

Brian said...

My daughter was born on the morning of this storm!!! We didn't make it to the hospital but the ambulance was able to take us to the Roxboro Clinic on Sources Road in Dollard des Ormeaux. It was written up in the Lakeshore Chronicle and we often take the newspaper clipping out to remind us of that day!!

aranawes said...

In addition to the 47cm of snow, the problems were compounded by an ongoing Montreal blue-collar union strike which meant that streets were not being cleared as the snow fell. Police were using snowmobiles to reach people in the city, and buses remained wherever they became stuck for up to a week. Schools were also closed for the week and stores ran out of supplies since trucks could not make deliveries. While I remember it as being quite a fun adventure, for many it was a real nightmare.

Shlep said...

I remember this vividly. I was just an 8 year old boy living in Pierrefonds Quebec on Thorndale ave when this happened. My father and a neighbour cleaned the street with snowblower's the next day and the weather was warm. When the street was clear there was a huge block party it was alot of fun.

Sarah said...

Hi Everyone!! My name is Sarah and I work with the CBC here in Montreal. We would really, realllllyyy love to talk to a few of you abuot your experience in 1971. Could you please give me a call at 514 597-6367 or at sarah.mcmahon-sperber@cbc.ca? We'd like to talk to you for today's Radio Noon!
Cheers!

Ken Barth said...

I was 9 years old at the time living on Gilles Street in Pierrefonds. I shovelled driveways to earn money and I must have shovelled for days! I remember they had to use big D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers to clear the streets because the snow was to heavy to push by regular plows.Snowmobiles were used to get to the sick and transport medicines to those stuck at home. Now I live in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island where we had only a dusting of snow (back in Oct/Nov 2014) this Winter (so far)! Do not miss the snow now that I am in my fifties eh!

Mister Crash said...

I was 7 years old when this storm happened. We lived in the Eastern Townships and got a lift from our neighbor to drive us to my Grand-Parents on the South shore of Montreal. He was going to Montreal and would drop us off on the way and pick us back up the next day to come back home. None of us made it to our destinations, we got stuck on road 229 between Rougemont and St-Jean-Baptiste. I remember we got out of the car. I remember following my dad holding the back of his coat, I could barely see him a couple feet in front of me. We were lucky enough to get stuck in front of a house, the only one for a couple miles. Two other families were stuck on that road and made it to that house. They took us all in, they were ready to welcome their family members that never showed up because of the storm. I remember flashes of all the people in that house, kids getting to know each other. I remember it was like a big party and everyone looked happy. The next day I remember looking at my dad and our neighbor trying to find the car. They found it because they saw the antenna poking through the snow.

SB said...

Hi Mister Crash, thanks so much for sharing. What a story. My wife commented immediately about your story, how that family took in stranded travelers. I wonder if we could expect the same in today's world? Again, thanks for the comment, I appreciate you stopping by. SB