A Brief One from Doug Draper
Posted January 27, 2016 on Niagara At Large
While so many of us are wondering what happened to winter this January, some may also recall the day winter swept eastward across Lake Erie, bombarding large swaths of Niagara and Western New York with an epic fury that claimed lives and had millions of people on lock down for the better part of a week.
It began on January 28th, 1977, on a Friday morning after many had already left home for school and work. Then sometime around 9 a.m., television and radio stations began broadcasting alerts fast and furious. There was a ferocious winter storm coming our way and everyone ought to go home or to anywhere where there is food and a warm place to ride the storm out – and do it as soon as possible.
Not everyone took the alerts as seriously as they should have.
I was still going to school in the Niagara region and working part-time at a big-box store in Welland, and was a shift at the store when the first alerts came on a radio we had turned on in the electronics department. I still remember the manager – a nice guy – standing at the front windows looking out as the winds got stronger and visibility lessened to a point where it was getting hard to see anything at the other end of the parking lot.
He was in a jam because he would have to answer to his bosses in Toronto if he closed the store and sent everyone home, only to find the storm over by afternoon. I suggested he should close and asked him if people could leave on their own, without penalty, if they liked, and he was good enough to say they could.
So I got in my car and by the time I got from one end of Welland’s Main Street to the other, I was driving through near white out conditions and the winds were so strong, the very few people left on the sidewalks were clinging to lamp posts to keep from being blown over and there was no way I could stop to help them without having the door of my car – already riding up and down on its wheel carriage in the wind – torn off.
Fortunately, for those people on the sidewalks, there were unlocked doors of stores still open for them to find shelter.
It was the beginning of what became known as the Blizzard of 77 – a storm that by the first day of February when it finally ended, claimed more than two dozen lives on both sides of the border and left countless thousands stranded in stores and schools and other places away from home where brave crews of citizens, delivering them food, medicine and other essentials on snowmobiles, was there only lifeline.
It was also a storm that created drifts of snow so high, they buried cars and trucks – one photographer from a local newspaper recalled driving over the top of a buried bus on a snowmobile – and closed virtually everything, from roads and highways, to business and government offices down.
There was also a cast of heroes and villains – the people who risked their lives and gave generally to help people who were stranded, and there were those who took advantage and gouged people in desperate need of food and shelter.
The storm had a way of accentuating the good, the bad and the ugly sides of human nature. It made for stories that were heartening and, in some cases, disgusting and horrific. But for the most part, the experience brought out the best in people and, as stranded, as people were, had away of bringing communities close together.
If you were around then, you might want to share a few of your memories of this historic storm below.
NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.
A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.
For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .
“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders