A “Snow Blockade” Wreaks Havoc

Almost 18 feet of snow fell in February 1904, bringing train travel to a halt and stranding hundreds of passengers north of Shelburne in the cold.

November 27, 2023 | | Back Story

By all accounts, the snowstorm of early February 1904 was a doozy. By February 5, nearly 5.5 metres of snow (about 18 feet) had fallen, creating what residents called a “snow blockade.” And blockade was surely apt, for all travel ground to a halt, including the CPR trains that linked Owen Sound and Toronto.

This wasn’t unprecedented, as the howling winds that regularly sweep across Melancthon often buried the tracks between Shelburne and Melancthon Station in deep snow.

That was exactly the situation when photographer David Reid snapped this photo of a snowbound train on the troublesome stretch north of Shelburne. Engineers would often try to bulldoze their way through a clog by backing up, then driving the engine forward to smash through the drift. If this didn’t work, another engine might be dispatched to give the snowbound train an extra power boost.

Courtesy the Museum of Dufferin

And if this, too, proved futile – as it did that long-ago February – well, the coming spring would solve the problem. Eventually.

In the meantime, nearby residents would hitch up their teams and set out with sleighs to rescue the passengers. In 1904, the Orangeville Sun reported that the CPR owed local hotels between $700 and $800 for sheltering the stranded during that winter’s blockades. (This at a time when the rate for an overnight hotel stay was probably a dollar or less.) Needless to say, hotel owners enjoyed the windfall.

About the Author More by Dyanne Rivers

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