A sudden start to winter for Winnipeg in 1986

By | November 8, 2019

It wasn’t as if Winnipeggers couldn’t deal with snow.

But the blizzard of Nov. 7, 1986 that dumped more than 33 centimetres on the city was one for the ages. 

“Our top news story tonight: the merciless blizzard that has stopped southern Manitoba cold,” said Don Goodwin, who was hosting the national news that evening.

“This storm is making a determined run for a place in the record books.”

‘The worst storm’

Two men attempt to free a pickup truck stuck in the snow on Nov. 7, 1986. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

Reporter Jane Chalmers described it as “a snowstorm the worst anyone has ever seen,” as the camera showed whiteout conditions and people struggling to dislodge a pickup truck stuck in the deep accumulation.

“The snowstorm has so far brought over 33 centimetres of snow,” she said.

Environment Canada would record more than that: 35.2 centimetres fell by storm’s end, according to CBC News.

A city command centre had been set up and would be staffed all night to co-ordinate police, fire and ambulance calls.

“It’s the worst storm we’ve had perhaps in the history of the city of Winnipeg,” said Mayor Bill Norrie.

Even the snowplows had stopped clearing the roads, said Chalmers. Their sole function was to clear the way for emergencies. 

Desolation at Portage and Main 

The car traffic at the downtown intersection of Portage Ave. and Main St. was lighter than usual.

“As the day wore on, travel became even more treacherous as abandoned cars littered the streets,” said Chalmers as a car could be seen virtually buried in a drift downtown.

“It’s like an obstacle course. There’s semi-trailers jackknifed, there’s a bus across the road,” said a tow truck driver who was trying to keep up.

Snowmobiles made it easier to get around, and Winnipeg police asked for people who had them to come forward to help with emergencies.

A long queue of people waited to buy supplies from the “quickly emptying” shelves in what Chalmers said was one of the “few stores still open.”  

“We’re just picking up odds and ends,” said a pedestrian. “It’s got to last us until Monday morning.”

Picking up ‘the essentials of life’

The snow wasn’t about to get in the way of a beer run for these two men. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

The storm began on a Friday night, and it was a Saturday when Chalmers filed her report.

She found some interviewees who apparently weren’t about to let a snowstorm get in the way of their Saturday plans.

“The essentials of life,” said a passerby, carrying two 12-packs of beer with a friend who was doing the same.

Others were out on the street just to experience the storm’s fury first-hand.

“I just came out to check the weather,” said a man, while a young woman explained she was “sick of studying” and thought she’d “get out.”     

“Going to the bar, get some beer,” said a young man wrapped up in a scarf and tuque. “It’s the thing to do right now.” 

The CBC caught some snowy scenes from around the city when Winnipeg was treated to an early storm on this day in 1986. 1:42