MOST MEMORABLE WINTER STORMS OF ALL (February 3/14)

A couple of snowstorms have proved troublesome here this winter.  But while they caused extended power outages all over the region, the storms were relatively minor, probably four or five on a scale of one to ten. Relatively minor, that is, when compared to blizzards and heavy snowfalls  hitting us in earlier times.  The kings of all storms may have been 1905’s “great outage.”  Then there was a storm centuries ago that arguably altered the history of this area and affected the way we live today.

But first a few words about a 1923 storm that tied up the railway for nearly a week:

In 1923 the railway line in Kings County was snow bound for days when a blizzard swept through the Valley.  Older residents of the county think of this storm as the blizzard of 1923.  “Some of your readers may recall this storm,” wrote Jean Calkin of Black Rock in a recent letter.  Calkin was born the year the blizzard struck and doesn’t remember it.  But the folklore she heard about the storm when growing up must have impressed her.  The late Leon Barron, who collected railroad folklore and artefacts as a hobby, told me the 1923 blizzard was close to being catastrophic since it closed the rail tracks for days.  The line between Kingsport and Kentville was especially hard hit, Barron said.  Even two engines behind the plow, with a third as backup, couldn’t clear the tracks of snow and the railroad had to call on communities along the line for assistance.

The Great Blockage

The storm known as the “Great Blockage of 1905” and the “King of Storms,” to give a couple of its names, began on a quiet day early in February. For about three weeks the storm rampaged through much of the Maritimes.  The Annapolis Valley was particularly hard hit since so many communities along the line depended on the railroad for food and fuel.   In her history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway Marguerite Woodworth wrote that the storm totally disrupted rail service throughout Nova Scotia, shutting it down in some areas for weeks.

A few personal accounts of the 1905 storm exist, but only a few.  Fortunately, people like the late Harry Pemberton recorded their experience with the 1905 storm so we have a record of what it was like. Pemberton was farming in Hants County when the storm struck this region, isolating entire Valley communities for weeks.  He kept a diary and recorded what happened when the storm tied up the entire Valley and it is bleak reading.

Harry Pemberton’s diary, which his family still has, and Jean Calkin’s recalling of blizzard folklore – she wrote a poem about the 1923 storm and its effect on the Cornwallis Valley Railway – are only a few of the written records extant on storms devastating this area.  There were many such weather events and while the 1905 storm must have been the most devastating to hit this region, another blizzard, while less known, had an effect that’s still felt today.

The 1747 Blizzard

In 1747 a February blizzard swept through Kings County, burying the tiny Acadian settlement of Grand Pre and most of eastern Nova Scotia under snowdrifts said to have been 12 to 16 feet deep in places.  Despite the blizzard, French forces were able to attack and slaughter British troops staying in homes around Grand Pre.  This event is known as the Noble massacre and to mark it the federal government erected a monument in Grand Pre.

“On February 11, 1747,” the monument inscription reads, “Grand Pre was the scene of a surprise attack on Col. Arthur Noble’s detachment of British troops from Massachusetts who were billeted in the houses of the inhabitants.  A French and Indian force under Coulon De Villiers broke into the British quarters at 3 a.m. during a blinding snowstorm and in the close fighting, Noble and about 70 of his men were killed ….”

Much has been written about the massacre but overlooked is that the storm and deep snows lulled Noble into not being sufficiently alert and a surprise attack was possible.

It isn’t often that a winter blizzard drastically affects the population of this area but it can be argued the storm in February of 1747 did.  No storm, no massacre.  And bottom line, perhaps no deportation.  The Acadians were suspected of aiding the French in the surprise attack.  When less than a decade later the fate of the Acadians was being decided, the Noble massacre must have been foremost in everyone’s mind.

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