Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: ‘Snowmageddon’ in 1996 one to remember

He said he wasn’t born then so I told him just how bad that storm was

It was nice to have had a white Christmas this year, particularly for the kids in the Cowichan Valley and the rest of southern Vancouver Island who rarely get to see the white stuff during the festive season.

But the huge snowfall last week was a little harder to take, making it difficult, if not impossible, for many of us to get to work.

In fact, many businesses stayed closed for the day, as well as schools.

While I was busily shovelling my driveway after a particularly snowy day recently, a passing young pedestrian said he felt it was like “Snowmageddon.”

I asked him if he remembered the notorious Blizzard of 1996 in which more than 125 centimetres of snow fell over several days just after Christmas on much of Vancouver Island, with more than 60 centimetres of that snow falling over a single 24-hour period ending on Dec. 29.

He said he wasn’t born then so I took a much-needed break from shovelling to tell him just how bad that storm was.

It was my first winter on Vancouver Island.

One of the many reasons I chose to move here was because the Island was reputed to be the most Mediterranean-type climate in Canada and, after spending all of my life up to that time living in areas of the country where winter sometimes blasts away for almost six months of the year, I wanted to experience what many called the “California of Canada.”

I awoke on Dec. 29, 1996, in my home in Nanaimo and began preparing myself to head back to work after a short five-day Christmas break when I looked out my window into a winter wonderland.

My first reaction was that I had been lied to and this region apparently gets as much snow as everywhere else across the country.

I got a shower and started making breakfast while I waited for a snow plow to make a swing into my cul-de-sac before I began to shovel my car out of the driveway.

I finished breakfast and waited for the plow…and waited…and waited.

I finally got fed up waiting and stepped outside to see what was going on.

I was the only person I could see outside at that early hour, but it was a work day and I was surprised that other people weren’t out trying to rescue their vehicles from the clutches of the newly fallen snow.

The snow was way up past my knees and drifts were halfway up the houses in the neighbourhood, but I didn’t find it much different from the winter blasts I was used to while growing up on the east coast.

I made my way to Hammond Bay Road, one of the main thoroughfares in that city, where I hoped to find a plow and ask the driver when someone would be clearing my cul-de-sac.

I was shocked to see that a plow hadn’t even been on that main road so far that morning, and when I saw a small city pick-up truck about half a mile down the road struggling fruitlessly to make a path through the high snow, I began to realize I was experiencing the aftermath of a storm that was not common for the area.

No plow came to my cul-de-sac for five days after the storm, and only showed up after city workers had finally made progress with the main roads with the limited trucks and plows they had available.

It didn’t much matter because there was no work at my job during that whole time as the concrete plant’s fork lifts couldn’t operate in the snow anyway.

Not much else in the city operated either over those five days, and most people enjoyed an unexpectedly long Christmas vacation that year.

But I just hope we don’t get hit by another storm like that again anytime soon.

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