The winter of 1955-56

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Winter set in early with about three inches of snow falling on Nov. 11, 1955. My father and Arnold MacMillan had been setting their smelt nets together in coves around the Merigomish area but had returned home to Pictou Island on November 12 because of the unstable weather. It was still blowing hard and was awful cold two days later on Monday, November 14th. Mother and Dad had sailed to Pictou in dad’s small open thirty foot boat (Slo-Mo-Shun) to purchase our winters supply of groceries. Strong cold north winds didn’t allow their return to Pictou Island until the following day.

The winter supplies would consist of 100-pound bags of flour and sugar, canned goods, baking products, toiletries, etc. These products would hopefully last until spring when the Strait ice would be gone and travel would again be possible via boat. The total cost for the winter supplies during those years was approximately $300. I recall how our upstairs pantry shelves would be crammed with a large variety of canned and boxed goods. Bags of floor and sugar would also be stored there.

Another snowstorm with strong southwest winds occurred nine days later on November 20th. The small, open wooded lobster boats of that time were only equipped with manual hand pumps. Many Pictou Islanders still had their boats in the water and they were at the wharf pumping water out off them throughout the night. Huge waves would break over the old wharf and the icy spray would wash into any boats that were tied there.

It remained awful cold and the snow continued to drift around. Another big snowstorm bashed the island on December 10th. That storm lasted for two days and the island’s only dirt road was blocked with snow. John Angus MacMillan had to open a path through fields with his snowplow so islanders could get to the wharf and haul Ernie Rankin’s ferryboat up onto the shore. The early winter weather of 1955 was really pounding Pictou Island. Another snowstorm ravished the island on December16th and 17th. There was certainly no shortage of snow on the ground for Christmas Day 1955.

The temperature was remaining at around -12 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Jen Turple’s brother Bill Harris died on Jan. 1st 1956 and his funeral was two days later on January 3rd. Verna Rankin, George Rankin and Ronnie MacDonald went over to Pictou in the mail plane that same day.

I’m thinking that we Pictou Islanders probably thought that our little island was going to be buried in snow that winter. However the weather went from one extreme to the other.  It turned milder and started to rain on January 5th. The rain continued for 11 straight days until January 16th and most of the snow and ice had disappeared. During that time the island’s road was merely a cow path with little or no ditches. The road during that thaw was in a terrible mess with mud everywhere. It was so soft and muddy that only tractors and horses dare to be on it.

My father was to be admitted into the hospital on the mainland for an operation on January 20. There was still only scattered ice between Pictou Island and the mainland even though we had a lot of snow dumped on us during the previous month. Bush MacDonald took Dad across to Pictou in his boat on January 16th and sailed right up to Magee’s wharf in Pictou. Verna Rankin came back to the island with Bush on that same day.

One of our three milking cows became sick on February 1st. Dad was now in the hospital but other Islanders were quick to care for the animal. Arnold and Charlie MacMillan, Andy Ward, Duncan Rankin, Dougie Patterson and John Angus MacMillan continually came to our place and did the barn work and cared for the sick animal. They also assisted Rita, Rosemary and little Vincent with shoveling snow around the yard while John Angus would run the snowplow up our long driveway.

The mild wet weather ended on February 2nd. However a snowstorm accompanied with strong winds walloped the island on February 4th, 5th, and 6th. John Angus had a difficult task trying to keep a throughway open through the fields because there was so much drifted snow on the road. My father got out off the hospital Jan. 31st and came home via mail plane on February 8th. Snow flurries and cold winds just about every day up until February 28th when yet another snowstorm struck the island. Snow was drifting into high banks everywhere. There was not a fence post to be seen. Billy MacMillan, Sandra, Ann, Debbie and Jackie MacMillan and I were hauling our sleds over the top of the telephone lines between our place and Duncan Rankin’s. It was very cold with snow flurries over the first two weeks off March. Then the island was bashed again on March 17th and March 20th with more snow and strong winds. There was just no place else for the snow to go.

Dad had built a lobster boat for Duncan Rankin that winter and I believe Duncan called her The Hilda Mae. On April 1st Easter Sunday, Duncan Rankin, John Angus, Arnold and Charlie MacMillan took Duncan’s engine for his new boat up to my father’s boathouse.

It started to turn milder on April 2nd and heavy rains fell the next few days. It was cold with some scattered ice on April 8th. Harold Bennett was the first to sail his boat from the island to Pictou that year and Cameron MacDonald came back with him that day. Thunder and lightning storm April 16th and the Strait ice had scattered quickly. Snowstorm on April 21st but turned to rain the next day. Lobster traps were set on April 30th and dad’s first haul on May 2nd had him catch 306 pounds. We had another snowstorm on May 8th and the men were at the wharf shoveling the snow from their boats.

As witnessed, we were also blessed with odd weather patterns 50 years ago.