The Big Snowstorm of 1951

The Big Snowstorm of 1951

The Easter Ham was a tradition in my family.  Neither 12-foot drifts, 75 mile-an-hour winds, or the prospect of having to walk up to 25 miles could stop our dad from getting home to carve it.

On March 15 and 16 of 1951, a huge snowstorm swept through Central and Northern Alberta. On the first day of the snowstorm, our parents were in Edmonton for a doctor’s appointment. After the storm, winds up to 122 k.p.h. packed the snow so hard that it formed four-meter high drifts on most roads, rural and urban. Only essential roads were plowed.

“Looking back at the spring of 1951” by Michael Dawe appeared in the Red Deer Express 2014 and 2018, describing the “paralytic vise” that gripped the province in 1951. 

Hilda was advised to stay in Edmonton to await the birth of their sixth child (who arrived ten days later).  Meanwhile, the five other children (between the ages of three and fifteen) were alone out on the farm. The oldest two kept the farm going, caring for the younger kids, looking after the livestock, and keeping the house warm until Jack arrived on foot (either a week or ten days later). They dragged the younger ones on a toboggan out to the highway where the neighbour drove them to Bon Accord hall to see “Bambi”.  Hilda stayed in Edmonton with the new baby until the roads were open.

Jack Milligan carves the Easter ham in 1951

Jack carved the ham for Easter Dinner with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Maybe he was practicing scruffy hospitality or maybe it doesn’t matter.  He looks pretty happy in the photo, taken by his eldest son, John.

Here are John’s memories of how Dad got home in the Big Storm of 1951(personal communication, March 8, 2022)

….I remember quite a bit. Dad left our Mum at Uncle Bob’s and set off for the farm in the storm going by way of Gibbons. After he turned North off the Fort Saskatchewan trail, the drifts got too big to go on so he stopped at Lamoureux’s farm. He stayed there with other drivers until the roads were cleared enough to get back to Uncle Bob’s in Edmonton. He stayed there until the highway through Bon Accord was being cleared. (The north-south roads were almost completely blocked and ploughing them was very slow.) He got as far as the road to Morinville and had to turn off and drove east to Blands’ (Aunt Mardie married Johnny Bland). He stayed there until the train came through and opened the railroad tracks. He walked down the tracks about 18 km and arrived at the farm about 4 pm. We had no idea where he was until he arrived. The telephone switchboard in Bon Accord was disconnected from our line. We could only phone our local neighbors. We were a little worried with the high winds during the storm. It made the cook stove and the oil stove burn very hot and the stove pipes got awfully hot. So we turned the oil stove off and ate cold food. I managed to get the outside chores done during lulls in the storm. It was easy to get around because the snow banks were so hard. But it was sure good to see Dad.

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