Sask. has had to cope with major snow storms throughout its history

·3 min read

For many, this week's blizzard in Saskatchewan may have brought back memories of the 2007 snowstorm that paralyzed much of the province.

For historian Bill Waiser, the wintry blast hearkened back to major snowstorms of more than a century ago.

The Nov. 5, 1906, storm that blasted through the province was one of the worst in Saskatchewan's history, Waiser told Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski Tuesday.

"It came early. It came heavy. The temperatures plummeted and didn't let go," he said.

Through that fall and winter Mounties were sent out on horseback to check on settlers and First Nations communities.

"Something fortunately happened that previous summer in that we took the census in 1906 so officials had a pretty good idea where people were living at the time," Waiser said.

Twitter/Jenny Hagan LostInSk, @LostInSk
Twitter/Jenny Hagan LostInSk, @LostInSk

The worst area, much like this week's storm, was in southwestern Saskatchewan.

"That Nov. 5, 1906, snowstorm turned into a two-week blizzard that literally shut down the southwest part of the province and decimated the ranching industry. At least half the herds perished in that storm."

Waiser said people didn't have the resources we have now, but they were resilient.

"They survived as best they could," he said. "People died. But, you know, you're talking about people that were able to meet challenges. In fact, if you think of what a homestead or did or what First Nations people did a century ago, they did OK."

Submitted by Bill Waiser
Submitted by Bill Waiser

Waiser said the storm changed the landscape of the area.

He's read accounts of how cattle on the open range would seek shelter in the coulees to get away from the wind and get away from the snow.

"But the snow was so deep that come the spring when that snow finally melted, they found dead cows in the tops of trees. One rancher talked about dead cows hanging from trees. They called it the big die off, the big stink."

He said many ranchers ended up going out of business.

What followed was high demand for homestead land. There was so much moisture that year that homesteaders flocked to the region.

"They brought land under cultivation, that if you've been down the southwest and Saskatchewan, you know, Old Man on His Back [Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area], Grasslands National Park, areas that should never have been broken by the plow. But that was an ironic legacy of 1906."

Jason Warick/CBC
Jason Warick/CBC

Waiser said there have been other storms that hit the province hard, including in the 1790s.

"We had winters arriving early and never letting go," Waiser said. "We know this from the fur trade accounts.

"In fact, winter arrived so early in the fall of 1795 that by November you could ride a horse across the South Saskatchewan River."

Another memorable storm was a week long blizzard in 1947 that blanketed much of southern Saskatchewan.

"It literally brought the province to a standstill. There were incredibly huge drifts that stopped trains, if you can imagine, shut down roads, brought down telephone and telegraph lines," Waiser said.

"One one dairy farmer had to cut a hole in the roof of his two-storey barn to get inside to milk his cows."