- Looking Back -|
Past storms brought Valley to a halt
Every time a ferocious storm paralyzes
an area someone always asks, "Are Canadian winters getting worse?"
You'd know the answer to this question if
you had experienced past storms that literally brought the Annapolis Valley to a
standstill. Ask some of our seniors about so the great storm of 1905, for
example. This storm made the history books and has been the topic of numerous
magazine articles and historical talks.
My grandfather was in his late thirties and
my father a teenager when this storm struck in late winter; both referred to it
as the greatest catastrophe of their time and they had many tales of the
hardships suffered. I've read the newspaper and magazine articles, heard the
folktales and listened to discussions about the storm and I've looked at those
unbelievable photographs of Valley towns with snow tunnels up and down the main
streets. There's little doubt that the 1905 storm was a doozer.
How severe the 1905 storm was may be seen
in Marguerite Woodworth's history of the Dominion Atlantic Railway. The storm
totally disrupted operation of the railroad throughout Nova Scotia, closing it
down in some areas for weeks and months. The Annapolis Valley may have been the
hardest hit, since according to Woodworth, the rail line from Kentville to
Yarmouth and from Halifax to Kentville was clogged for a lengthy period and all
commerce depending on the railway ceased.
"Heavy snowfalls lasting for days,
storms, thaws, then freezing temperatures that locked the line in a grip of snow
and ice caused all operations to cease for weeks at a time." is Woodworth's
summary of the 1905 storm's effect on the railroad.
When the lines had been cleared - and it
took hundreds of volunteers working to accomplish this since railroad plows were
almost useless - the railroad had spent over $100,000 in snow clearance alone.
Woodworth said it was a "severe financial setback" for the railway
that curtailed expansion plans and "disposed of any immediate hope of
paying dividends to the shareholders."
One magazine article I read mentioned that
hundreds of people nearly starved to death and many were without sufficient
means of heat while the railway struggled to clear the line. Several deaths were
attributed to the storm. Woodworth ignored the hardship and personal suffering,
although there is an oblique reference, and instead wrings her hands over the
railway's financial losses.
During the winter of 1923/24 another severe
storm struck this area and Leon Barron recently recalled the effect it had on
the Dominion Atlantic Railway. While not as severe and persistent as the 1905
storm, the blizzard of ‘23/24' disrupted rail service for several days. In
many areas the trains were unable to move, the snow piling up so deep on the
tracks that railway plows couldn't cope with it.
Hardest hit locally was the old Cornwallis
Valley Railway (CVR) which ran north from Kentville though Steam Mill and
Centerville and then east to terminate in Kingsport. Barron tells me that to
clear the CVR line, the railway used two engines behind a plow with a third
engine as backup. In some sections of the CVR even this wasn't enough machinery
to clear snow from the tracks and the railroad put out a call to communities
along the line for help.
Answering the railroad's call, men from
Kingsport, Habitant, Canning, Pereau and other communities showed up on a Sunday
morning with shovels to tackle the worst hit area between Pereau Road and the
Jackson Barkhouse Road. In this half-mile stretch known as Kinsman Cutting, snow
drifts were as high as the locomotive's smokestack and it took nine hours to
clear the tracks.