How a fish called Pat ended up stranded during a monster snow storm west of London

The unlikely story of a fish called Pat, who ended up stranded at a Strathroy, Ont., sports complex as a fierce lake effect storm grew into an adventure for his three human companions.

The fish was with its owner as the snow began coming down in huge sweeping curtains west of London

Pat, a betta fish belonging to Jill Hughes, became an unlikely guest at hockey rink turned makeshift shelter in Strathroy after a monster band of snow squalls engulfed an area west of London Thursday and Friday. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Of the 47 guests who were forced to hunker down at Strathroy's Gemini Sportsplex on Thursday night, none was apparently more interesting than a fish called Pat. 

"Everyone wants to talk about the fish," his owner Jill Hughes said Friday, noting she's had to explain the presence of the bluish black betta fish to more than a few of her fellow travellers stranded at the small town arena on Thursday night.

They were forced to billet themselves at the hockey rink turned makeshift refugee camp, as a monster band of snow squalls swallowed a huge area west of London in a blanket of white.  

'It's my fish'

From left to right, Geoffrey Line, his sister Madeline Line and Jill Hughes, who is the owner of Pat, whose mason jar home can be seen in the centre of the table. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"It's my fish," she said. "I primarily live and work on a boat, so I can't have a pet, really. So I have a pet fish that maybe, embarrassingly, kinda goes everywhere with me." 

True to form, Pat was in the car as Jill gripped the wheel of her four-wheel drive Subaru with both hands. She slowly cut a path through snow that was coming down so fiercely, the horizon seemed to disappear in the gale. 

"The 402 was closed and when we got on the back roads it was pretty much whiteout conditions because of the wind," she said. "There was just snow blowing all over the place. You had to drive really, really slow,"

'She was in a snowbank somewhere'

But, Madeleine Line was in a separate vehicle that was only two-wheel drive. Hughes and her travel companion, Geoffrey Line were worried about his sister. 

The snow encrusted Gemini Sportslex in Strathroy might look cold on the outside, but inside about 45 travellers, a fish and a dog took refuge Thursday night as intense snow squalls descended on the area. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"So you're trying to get on the phone, coordinate with her, figure out where she is. That was a little bit hectic and then we found out she was in a snowbank somewhere," Geoffrey Line said. 

Madeline ended up there because she felt the road she was on was too slippery. 

"I decided I couldn't stay on Highway 22 anymore because I was going to go in a ditch," she said. "So I thought I'd be daring and go on a side road and well, I got stuck in a ditch."

"I made it about 100 metres, everything was white, bumpy and then done, done."

Madeline was unhurt, but the three travelers decided the snow made navigating through the back roads of Middlesex County virtually impossible for her front-wheel drive car, so they decided to hunker down for the night at a makeshift campsite courtesy of the City of Strathroy. 

Police began diverting drivers off of Highway 402 west of London as early as Thursday afternoon as snow began coming down in thick curtains causing a number of spinouts and minor accidents. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Before they left the warmth of the car though, Jill Hughes grabbed the widemouth mason jar that now houses her scaly companion to spare it from the extreme cold. 

"Obviously we weren't going to leave it in the car to freeze," she said. "Now the fish has been hanging out with us here." 

"It's been fantastic," Geoffrey Line said of the hospitality, which included a cot to sleep on, hot coffee and a hearty breakfast courtesy of local charities and businesses. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca