Birch Lake – The Blizzard of ’41 – Chapter 1 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on January 18th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Blizzard of 41

Photo (Farm Life): In the early years of living on the farm in Saskatchewan, winter blizzards could arrive suddenly and last for days. Travelling in such such weather was a dangerous affair.

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Deep Winter, 1941: Northern Saskatchewan

It was just after 10:00 am when the pain struck causing the soon to be mom to double over. She grabbed the kitchen table to keep from falling as the pain slowly eased. Home alone and two miles from the nearest neighbour, ten miles from the the small village of Glaslyn in the far Northwest of Saskatchewan and forty-five miles from the hospital in Edam, she was scared as she had no idea what time her husband might return. Outside the January blizzard continued to build in intensity.

Bone chilling cold accompanied by high winds rolling off the southwest shore of Birch Lake pounded their little log home and although the house was partially sheltered by a thick karaganas hedge and poplars, the wind treated these barriers as minor annoyances. Each time a gust of wind hit, it felt like her little home might be shaken from its very foundation.

To make matters worse, the wind created a forlorn, howling sound as it whipped around the logs. Those sounds seemed to expectant mother, Laura, to be among the most lonesome sounds in the world, right up there with wolves howling in the wilderness or a loon calling across a dead calm lake a dusk. What would she do if the baby could not wait?

While the temperature had remained steady near -20F, Laura noted that over the morning it had started to drop and was now nearing -25. Over the past few winters it was not uncommon to see the temperature drop to -50 or -60F during a cold snap. It was always hard to tell the exact temperature as the mercury would freeze at -40. Add to that the wind chill and exposed skin would freeze within seconds and breathing that super cold air could damage lungs so quickly that, in her condition, walking to a neighbouring farm would be a risky, perhaps deadly proposition. She knew people could easily become disoriented in such storms and quickly freeze to death.  No, her best bet was to sit tight and wait for her husband. If the baby came she would just have to make due.

It was going to be a January blizzard forever etched in Laura’s mind. Years later when telling the story, she still shuddered at the memory:

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Comments

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold