It is for a reason they refer to it as the Great White North. The beautiful and renownedly generous nation of Canada is well-known for its occasionally depressing and harsh winter months. Snowstorms that are punishing are part of that. Winter brings with it frequent blizzards. Fall, though, can also completely obscure a portion of the country. The largest blizzard to hit Canada in December also happens to be widely regarded as the worst to ever hit Toronto.
Unprecedented and Unexpected Snowfall
Canada turned its attention from the weather to the exhausting Second World War on December 11, 1944. On Monday, the weather forecast was for a manageable 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) of snowfall in Toronto.
Still, the snow continued to fall.
The snowfall persisted through December 13, 1944. This corresponds to two days of continuous snowfall that nearly twice the quantity expected, resulting in an estimated 22.5 inches (57 centimeters) of snow accumulation. Taken aback, the severe and persistent rains caused the city to essentially close down. This response was not thoughtless. In December, Toronto receives about 7.9 inches (20 cm) of snow on average.
Impact on the City
It’s not hyperbole to say that the heavy snowfall has crippled Toronto. Schools and public transit services were immediately closed due to the blizzard. A snow day was granted to about 100,000 pupils and three thousand instructors in the city. Due to staff members’ inability to report to work, even the Toronto Stock Exchange, which is normally open for business, stayed closed. Serious enough, the blizzard interrupted vital services. Among them were munitions factories, which caused a halt to the war effort’s essential assistance.
One of the deadliest accidents occurred on Queen St. E. near Mutual St. when a streetcar was overturned by heavy gusts, trapping 170 people and killing one. Passengers were released for about an hour by police and staff. Using only axes, the rescuers completed the task.
Toronto Community Response
The people of Toronto quickly united behind their hidden city. When Mayor Frederick Conboy asked for volunteers to help shovel, a lot of people responded (he worked from home because he couldn’t get to city hall). One of the many reasons the aid was crucial was so that war laborers might rejoin the Allies in the Pacific and Europe. Everyone over 16 was invited to assist in the endeavor by the mayor.
The skies over Toronto cleared three days after the snowstorm hit. The city was halfway back to normal. Trapped by feet of compacted snowbanks, it was the first time many had left their homes in days. Sadly, the storm claimed the lives of nine people, and thirteen more persons passed away from heart attacks sustained while excavating in the snow. There had been so much snowfall that workers and volunteers had to load extra onto railroad carriages.
Lasting Legacy of the Snowstorm
The blizzard was named the “Great Snowstorm of 1944” by historians. The unusual weather had a deep impression on the populace. It also demonstrated the city’s resilience in the face of natural disasters and its ability to turn the corner. Communities are also reminded by this tragedy of the value of being ready for severe weather.
Toronto was hardest struck by the snowfall. However, it wasn’t the only place that was impacted by the 1944 Great Snowstorm. The massive weather pattern affected a large portion of the eastern Great Lakes region, including upstate New York, southern Ontario, northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and southern Quebec. The snowstorm’s fury reached West Virginia, a state further to the south.