They don’t call it the Great White North for nothing. Canada’s scenic and notoriously kind country is known for its sometimes bleak and unkind cold season. That includes punishing snowstorms. Blizzards are not uncommon in the winter months. However, the autumn season can also blanket part of the nation. The biggest December snowstorm in Canada also doubles as what many consider the city of Toronto’s worst ever.
Unprecedented and Unexpected Snowfall
On December 11, 1944, Canada focused not on the weather but on the taxing Second World War. The weather forecast predicted that a manageable 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) would fall on Toronto that day, a Monday.
But the snow kept falling.
The snowstorm lasted until December 13, 1944. This period translates to two days of constant snow that almost doubled the predicted amount, with an accumulation of approximately 22.5 inches (57 centimeters) of snow. Caught off guard, the city effectively shut down because of the brutal and constant precipitation. This reaction was not careless. The average snow precipitation for December in Toronto is approximately 7.9 inches (20 centimeters).
Impact on the City
Toronto paralyzed by the heavy snowfall is no exaggeration. The snowstorm caused the immediate closure of schools and public transportation services. The city’s three thousand teachers and almost 100,000 children got a snow day. Even the Toronto Stock Exchange – always open for business – remained closed because employees were unable to make it to the office. Just as serious, the blizzard aborted essential services. These included ammunition factories, which interrupted the vital support of the war effort.
One of the worst incidents happened when the snowy winds knocked over a streetcar on Queen St. E. near Mutual St., trapping 170 people and resulting in one fatality. Police and workers spent almost an hour freeing passengers. Rescuers accomplished the task with nothing more than axes.
Toronto Community Response
Toronto citizens wasted no time rallying around its buried metropolis. Many followed Mayor Frederick Conboy’s call to volunteer in shoveling (he worked from home as he couldn’t get to city hall). The assistance was essential for many reasons, one being that war workers could return to serving the Allies in Europe and the Pacific. The Mayor asked everyone over the age of 16 to help in the effort.
Three days after the snowstorm struck, the Toronto skies cleared. The city returned to 50 percent normality. For many individuals, it was the first time they had left their domiciles in days, trapped by feet of packed snowbanks. Tragically, nine people died directly at the hands of the storm, while 13 died due to heart attacks while digging out of the snow. So much snow had accumulated that volunteers and workers loaded excess snow onto railroad cars.
Lasting Legacy of the Snowstorm
Historians dubbed the blizzard the “Great Snowstorm of 1944.” The freakish weather left a lasting memory on the population. It also served as a testament to the city’s ability to overcome adversity and circle the wagons in the face of natural disasters. The event also reminds communities of the importance of being prepared for extreme weather conditions.
The snowstorm hit Toronto the hardest. Yet it was not alone in being affected by the Great Snowstorm of 1944. Much of the eastern Great Lakes region endured the mammoth weather pattern, including northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, southern Ontario, and southern Quebec. Even a more southern state like West Virginia felt the lash of the snowstorm.
|The Great Storm of 1944
|December 11, 194
|Amount of snowfall
|22.5 inches (57 centimeters)
The photo featured at the top of this post is © justkgoomm/Shutterstock.com
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