The Great Winnipeg Blizzard of 1966 and St. Paul’s High School

NOTIFICATION from the editor of igNation:  Yesterday’s post – Hardships and Miracles – was wrongly attributed to Peggy Spencer..The author of the post is Norbert Piche.  The correction has been made and an apology sent to Norbert and Peggy.


It began on a Friday morning in early November. Just one kid made it into school that day – he was dropped off at 7:00 AM by his father, and he spent the next four days there alone.

In those years nobody would have thought of inviting him into the Jesuit quarters, where there were at least two guest rooms, one of them for our Provincial Superior, and so he stayed in what I think was a nursing station.

There is a black and white photograph of him in the Saint Paul’s Crusader Yearbook for 1966: he’s standing all by himself in a classroom, and staring forlornly out of the window at mountains of snow outside.

Mountains there were indeed, with snowdrifts as high as the roof of the school, and parked cars on every street buried completely under snow. Father Barry Connolly started shovelling snow from a second storey window in order to get out, and Father Frank Brennan went off on someone’s snowmobile to celebrate Mass for the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.Source: ctvnws

Once the snow stopped flying and wind died down, the other Jesuit scholastics, John Pungente, and I (those still in formation and teaching at the high school) grabbed shovels and manned the tractor and snow blower, helping Brother Alf McAndrew clear the way in front of the garages.

One of the priests insisted on taking out a car, which soon got stuck. When he took out a second car and got it stuck too, Brother Alf lost his cool and uttered some choice words at the poor father.

But for the first two days the temperature dropped to about -30 C, and the winds howled, and at least three or four feet of snow was dumped on the city. Nothing moved; everyone stayed indoors until it was finally safe to go out on skis and snow mobiles.

Eventually the army was called in to help clear the roads and the perimeter highway, so that fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances could get around the city, and slowly things returned to normal.

On Sunday evening a few people made it to the popular 9:00 PM Mass at Saint Ignatius Church, including Geoff and Rita Doerr, who provided the music. I don’t remember who presided at the Mass, but it was a cosy little gathering.

On Tuesday morning classes resumed as usual, and most of the kids were excited to return to school and share their adventures of coping with the blizzard – all except the one, perhaps, who had been trapped there during the previous four days.


Eric Jensen, SJ, works in the Spiritual Exercises ministry at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario. He also paints and writes. He is the author of Entering Christ's Prayer (Ave Maria Press, 2007)and Ignatius Loyola and You (Novalis 2018).

  • Friederika Priemer
    Posted at 04:44h, 10 February Reply

    Thank you, Fr. Eric Jensen, for this extremely interesting report! Blessings and stay safe!

  • graeme quinlan
    Posted at 05:06h, 10 February Reply

    I praise the Lord that we here in central Victoria Australia don’t experience anything like that kind of weather. But is’nt it amazing just how Resilience,Faith and Trust can bring us through the worst of what nature can drop on us. Thank you for this insight Eric.

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 05:47h, 10 February Reply

    This is a very vivid description of a snow lockdown from some 55 years ago, Eric. It must have created a deep impression on you. I can feel the loneliness of that little boy. You took a photo of him in the empty classroom and must have brought him food, some supplies and kept the heat on. Wow! I have only stayed in Winnipeg for a year in the early 70s for my internship. I still remember the wind tunnel on Portage Ave. Thank you for writing this.

  • Paul Baker
    Posted at 05:51h, 10 February Reply

    Wow! What a great story, but ever so real. Thanks.

  • olga Ann Protz
    Posted at 08:00h, 10 February Reply

    What a great gem of a story Eric! Especially because it is a real event. A true winter prairie storm, the pictures reveal its power, thank you so much for sharing this. Brings back memories of my own winters, but this one takes the ‘cake’!

  • Howard R. Engel
    Posted at 08:03h, 10 February Reply

    Many thanks, Fr. Eric, for sharing your reminiscences of this massive winter storm and its impact on my own alma mater, St. Paul’s High School (I attended from 1975-1979) that had only just moved to the then Town of Tuxedo in 1964. However, aren’t you referring to the historic blizzard on the only date that’s also a command “March Fourth” 1966, instead of November? Here’s but one among several Web pages devoted to this unforgettable storm: Peace, Howard R. Engel

  • richard grover
    Posted at 09:18h, 10 February Reply

    Now igNation readers will know why we affectionately refer to our city as WINTERpeg. We are living through a similar abundance of snow this winter.Really old timers will remember a poem that said “…in Winnipeg at Christmas there’s lots and lots of snow…” Thanks Eric.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 10:21h, 10 February Reply

    Thank you Eric!

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 14:22h, 10 February Reply

    Yes, Howard Engel is right on the date. I meant to write “early March” but somehow wrote November, and asked the editor to correct it after I submitted it, so I hereby shift the blame to John Pungente!

    • John J. Pungente, SJ
      Posted at 08:52h, 11 February Reply

      Shifted blame accepter. After all, why would there be such a storm in Winnipeg in March – unheard of!!!

  • Philip Shano
    Posted at 14:35h, 10 February Reply

    Thanks. We need to hear more stories like that. So, did the Jesuit community at least send food to that poor boy?

  • Johnston Smith
    Posted at 18:04h, 10 February Reply

    Wonderful tale artfully told, Eric! I was a grade 11 student then, newly transplanted from Toronto in February. That March blizzard certainly demonstrated that I was not in Kansas!

    Posted at 14:57h, 11 February Reply

    Thanks for a great story, Eric. My parents were away for that storm at a medical conference, so it fell to me to clear the waist-high snow from the driveway. As I laboured my neighbour on the left opened opened her door to shout, “Don’t throw your snow on my yard!”

  • Susan Garbett-Snidal
    Posted at 01:49h, 15 February Reply

    Thank you, Father Eric!

    A wonderful description of an event still spoken of here, in Winnipeg… especially after all our snow!
    47.32 inches so far or 3.94 feet…or for those who think in metric, 120.2 cm.
    Not as significant as 1966,

    The City of Winnipeg said the blizzard lasted 20 hours, dropping 35.6 cm, or 14 inches, of snow on top of the city. Winds gusted up to 113 km or 70.2 mph. At the Winnipeg airport there was zero visibility for 14 consecutive hours. So 1966 still holds pride of place!

    We are reminded, by Father Eric’s reminiscences, that we, humans, can survive challenges, especially when we band together and help one another and that seemingly bad things can bring good things, the kindness of others and fun and adventure on snow mountains!

    To highlight how the great Blizzard lives on, I and the gentleman driving the taxi, on Tuesday last, were discussing all the snow and its challenges. Soon we started an animated dialogue about the stories, facts, and escapades, that were shared, respecting this phenomenon of the Blizzard of 66: now a part of Winnipeg’s history.

    So good to hear from you again, Father, and do keep warm and well. I have fond memories of you at St. Ignatius. You were our pastor at the most eventful parts of our lives. Thank you.
    God bless you!

    Jerry Olenko was six years old when the blizzard struck. While driving around probably wasn’t much, Oletnko remembers it as “almost a joyous occasion,” and getting to take three full days off school, playing outside in the snow instead of being cooped up in a classroom.

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