Remembering the “Great” Snowstorm of 1944: December 11-12: Snapshots in History

December 14, 2017 | John P.

Comments (1)

The weather in December reminds Torontonians that winter is on the way, if it has not already arrived in some instances over the years. Let us look back to December 11-12, 1944 when Toronto experienced the worst snowstorm in its history. The front page banner headline of the Toronto Daily Star newspaper on December 12, 1944 read in bold print: “NINE DIE IN TORONTO BLIZZARD 21-INCH SNOWFALL IS RECORDED”. Underneath the large headline, readers read the following headline: Toronto Citizens Die in Mountainous Drifts: Whole City Stopped as if by a Giant Hand – Snow 21 Inches by Noon and Is Still Falling Heavily”. The article continued as follows:

“Nine people are dead and 21 inches of snow has fallen to noon in the worst snowstorm Toronto has ever experienced…The city is tied up – almost strangled. Commencing Monday evening, a light, drifting snow increased in intensity in the small hours of Tuesday morning and was continuing unabated this afternoon…Only main lines of the Toronto Transportation Commission remained open and those with the greatest difficulty. All other traffic was stopped as if by a giant hand, with essential deliveries of bread, milk and other foodstuffs either stopped entirely or carried out on a restricted emergency basis…Mayor Conboy broadcast an appeal urging workers to stay home unless their jobs were of an essential nature. ‘We want all available transportation facilities to bring war workers and others to their jobs,’ he said…”

The article continued on page 10 of the December 12, 1944 issue of the Toronto Daily Star, including the following section:

“..An appeal for volunteers to clean city streets on behalf of the city and the T.T.C. was made early by Grant E. Taylor, deputy street cleaning commissioner. On account of the emergency, Selective Service gave a blanket permission for anybody to volunteer without a permit and accept work. Mr. Taylor asked for anybody above 16…said that it will take at least three days to dig Toronto out to normal…’Every effort,’…’will be made at once to clear the main city thoroughfares and intersections. We hope to do this by night…The trouble is to get our men on the job, and a lot of our plows are stuck in the drifts’ said Mr. Taylor…”

To view the articles in full, please access the Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card.

Page 13 of the December 12, 1944 issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper offered readers an article with the following headline: “One Dead, Many Injured as Snowstorm Result”. Here are some excerpts from this article:

“…After a few hours’ lull in the early evening, the storm returned with increased fury, and what was described as a “young blizzard” struck parts of the city, adding further to traffic difficulties…Numerous minor traffic accidents were reported, while street car traffic was delayed on several lines, mostly due to skidding and stalled automobiles and trucks. For the first time this winter, sweepers and sanders were working on grades and car lines…The Toronto Street Cleaning Department had 137 men and 27 trucks out last night, and crosswalks, hills and curves on all main arteries were being sanded, Street Cleaning Commissioner Harold Bradley said. The department began to remove snow from the downtown area yesterday, and will continue the work today…”

To view this article in full, please access the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card.

Since that fateful storm, Torontonians and the Toronto media remember the 1944 storm and proceed to remind us about it from time to time as demonstrated by articles in/on: Toronto Star (2014), Toronto Sun (2014), CTV News Toronto (2015), CityNews (2012), CBC News (2013), and History.com. Looking back, one learned that twenty-one (21) people ultimately died as a result of the storm that dropped 57 centimetres (cm) of snow over a two-day period.

Popular Toronto blogs such as TayloronHistory.com and BlogTO.com have written about the “great” Toronto snowstorm of 1944. In fact, Agatha Barc, writing on December 15, 2010 on BlogTO.com, provided context and background information about the storm, drawing on information in A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was by Mike Filey and The Invisible War: The Untold Secret Story of Number One Canadian Special Wireless Group: Royal Canadian Signal Corps, 1944-1946 by Gill Murray. In a striking parallel to inaccurate weather forecasting that accompanied Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Mike Filey noted that only a range of 4 to 11 inches of snow were projected for December 11, a far cry from the 22.5 inches (57 centimetres) that ultimately fell on Toronto. Gill Murray was visiting friends in Toronto when they woke up to an amount of snow “unheard of in Toronto”.

 

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

 

The invisible war the untold secret story of Number One Canadian Special Wireless Group  Royal Canadian Signal Corps  1944-1946

Book, 2001

 

 

A Toronto album 2 more glimpses of the city that was

Book, 2002

 

A Toronto album  volume 2 2 more glimpses of the city that was

eBook, 2002

 

Here are some photographs depicting the effects of the December 1944 storm from the City of Toronto Archives collection:

 

City of Toronto Archives  Fonds 200  Series 372  Subseries 100  Item 457 s0372_ss0100_it0457

Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 457

Snowstorm (22.5" in 36 hours), Bay Street, Queen's Park, Yonge Street, etc., December 11, 1944; Fonds 200; Former City of Toronto fonds; Series 372; Dept. of Public Works photographs; Subseries 100; General photographs; OPEN - No restrictions on these government records; Copyright is in the public domain and permission for use is not required.

 

City of Toronto Archives  Fonds 200  Series 372  Subseries 100  Item 456 s0372_ss0100_it0456

Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 456

Snowstorm (22.5" in 36 hours), Bay Street, Queen's Park, Yonge Street, etc., December 11, 1944; Fonds 200; Former City of Toronto fonds; Series 372; Dept. of Public Works photographs; Subseries 100; General photographs; OPEN - No restrictions on these government records; Copyright is in the public domain and permission for use is not required.

 

City of Toronto Archives  Fonds 200  Series 372  Subseries 100  Item 455 s0372_ss0100_it0455

Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 455

Snowstorm (22.5" in 36 hours), Bay Street, Queen's Park, Yonge Street, etc., December 11, 1944; Fonds 200; Former City of Toronto fonds; Series 372; Dept. of Public Works photographs; Subseries 100; General photographs; OPEN - No restrictions on these government records; Copyright is in the public domain and permission for use is not required.

 

City of Toronto Archives  Fonds 200  Series 372  Subseries 100  Item 454 s0372_ss0100_it0454

Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 454

Snowstorm (22.5" in 36 hours), Bay Street, Queen's Park, Yonge Street, etc., December 11, 1944; Fonds 200; Former City of Toronto fonds; Series 372; Dept. of Public Works photographs; Subseries 100; General photographs; OPEN - No restrictions on these government records; Copyright is in the public domain and permission for use is not required.

 

Please see also the following blog posts on weather-related local history topics:

Remembering the December 20-23, 2013 Ice Storm: Snapshots in History

Remembering Hurricane Hazel: October 15: Snapshots in History

Remembering the Toronto Flood of 2013: July 8: Snapshots in History

Comments