You think this winter’s bad! Remember 1971?
Keeping the Peace
By Tom Lessard
For some reason, I had driven myself to work at Wolseley Barracks in London instead of travelling with my normal carpool (five of us from Huron Park usually rode together).
It started to snow in the morning and by noon, reports coming from the radio indicated the weather was going to get worse. I told my boss I was going home early, and Highway 4 at #22 was still open, so I headed out.
The wind and snow were getting worse as I passed Arva and reached open country, but I persevered. By the time I reached Ilderton Road, the drifting and blowing were causing whiteouts and building up so much that I had to plow through some of them.
By the time I got to the north end of Birr I could go no further. The road was blocked such that I couldn’t go back or forward and had to abandon my car. In those days, we carried our winter gear with us so I put mine on and left the car in the middle of the road and headed back into Birr.
I didn’t have far to go before I noticed – through the blinding snow – the Birr meat shop. Reaching the shop I found that there were already a number of people stranded. The shop was warm and had plenty of coffee brewing. There was also a radio on with the weather report repeating regularly. It was then I discovered that the OPP had closed Highway 4 about 10 minutes after I left London.
The meat shop was not very big. To try to make ourselves comfortable, we used what furniture was there and emptied some of the shelving to enable ourselves to lie down; we figured we would be stranded there for quite some time.
The next morning word got through that the army was sending armoured personnel carriers loaded with blankets and bedding for all the people stranded at St. Patrick’s school between Elginfield and Lucan. I dressed as warmly as I could in my winter gear and went out to the road to await them; I waved them down and climbed aboard. After unloading at the school, I was informed that they were not allowed to go any further north, so I asked them to drop me off at the restaurant in Elginfield.
The place was packed.
There were a couple of other soldiers in the crowd. We were told that the water pipe was frozen, so we volunteered to melt snow and make soup. Supplies were running out and a call for help went out to the Shillelagh bar and restaurant; they sent skidoos with milk and bread.
Later that day, a tracked 16-passenger military vehicle – on loan to the OPP – arrived heading north, and took a few of us to the Legion in Lucan. The fellow operating the hall and bar wanted to go home but couldn’t without someone taking his place. I was working part-time at the Dufferin Hotel in Centralia at the time, so I contacted my boss Scott McNair, and asked him to track down Carl Stuckless, who managed the Lucan Legion. Soon after, Carl called to say I could take charge and keep the hall and bar open. I ran tabs for all the stranded – most of whom were from Centralia and Huron Park – and Scott promised to guarantee the tabs, saying he would collect the money we owed.
It was several days before the weather cleared, and we were all transported home. It was quite the adventure, but I arrived to find I wasn’t the only one who had a story to tell. Our oldest boys, Tom and Glen, had spent five days with Marlene Jeromkin because they couldn’t get home from Mount Carmel school. It was quite a storm!
Do you have a tale to tell? There are plenty of stories out there. Don’t be shy!