Fifty years ago, on March 4, 1966, a Colorado low brought down a giant snowstorm over southern Manitoba.

The blizzard paralyzed Winnipeg, forcing some to spend the night downtown in hotels and on the floors of department stores.

CBC meteorologist John Sauder spoke with retired Environment Canada meteorologist Larry Romaniuk about what it was like to forecast and live through the legendary storm.

John Sauder revisits the blizzard of 19664:18

He was working the night shift at the time. The snow was just starting to come down as he was clocking out.

"After I got home — luckily I got home OK — it started in earnest," he said.

"We didn't have the sophisticated instrument, observing equipment that we do today.… It was fairly well forecast; it's just the amounts that were maybe not forecast quite as much as we got."

Winnipeg got hit with about 38 centimetres (15 inches) of snow that night, the second largest single-day snowfall in the on record for the city. About 72 centimetres fell just to the south in Grand Forks.

Cop on the snowy beat

Roy Ulrichs is a former Winnipeg police officer on the beat at the time of the blizzard. He and another officer were patrolling the streets in a cruiser when the storm swept in.

Ulrichs and his partner were sent to a home on Alexander Avenue on a call. A woman called because her son had collapsed on a Toronto bed on her veranda and needed help.


The blizzard of 1966 saw snow drifts as high as some bungalows in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Wearing their heavy, Winnipeg Police Service standard-issue buffalo-fur coats, the officers left their cruiser on Salter Street and trekked through mounds of snow to reach the woman's son.

"We didn't have a stretcher, so we had to take the spring off the bed and put him on it and trundle through thigh-deep snow to the cruiser car, bundle him in the car," Ulrichs said.

"We took him into the emergency and we were so exhausted, we just collapsed in chairs in the emergency. The doctor came out and examined the fellow and he told us, 'Well, there's nothing wrong with this guy except he's exhausted.' Well, so were we!" Ulrichs laughed.

Snow up to the eaves

Winnipeg historian George Siamandas, a high school senior at the time, said class was dismissed early at his school due to the storm.

"People were stuck at Eaton's and The Bay all night," he said, adding his mother worked at Eaton's at the time.

"My aunt walked to Eaton's and helped my mom get home."

Siamandas recalled the St. James area was hit particularly hard.

"In St. James, it was almost up to the eavestrough of homes. [The] city was shut down," he said. "Snow removal trucks are how nurses and doctors got to work. Snowbanks [were] up to my shoulders."

Snowed in

Edmund Jagg lived in the North End and vividly remembers that snowy day in '66. It was two days before his 18th birthday.

The Jaggs' house had a front door and side door, both of which were snowed shut.

In a bout of cabin fever, Jagg went in search of another way out of the house.

"I went upstairs to my bedroom window, climbed [out and] onto my neighbour's roof and jumped down to the ground, which was only maybe two or three feet — that's how high the snow was," Jagg said, adding he then shovelled snow away from the doors of his family home.

"Finally dug ourselves out. That was the only way we could get ourselves out.… That's one day I'll never forget."

Party time

The day wasn't all shovelling and arguably needless pilgrimages to the emergency room.

A woman named Sarah told CBC News she was in her early adulthood at the time of the blizzard, having a ball at The Zoo as the snow piled up.

"Although I've never been an imbiber, it was the day to be at The Zoo, so anyone who lived within walking distance could get there and it was an all-day party," she said.

"I'm not sure what it descended to later in the night, but it was elbow-to-elbow and some of us were dancing on tabletops. It was wild, in a good way."

School's out

Donna Gatz, a third-year university student at the time, said the record storm was bit distressing.

She woke up the morning after the snowfall, concerned about whether she would make it to school that day to take some of her final exams.

"I remember how nervous I was, because I had no idea how bad it was out there, and I was afraid that I was going to get failed if I didn't show up," she said.

Classes were thankfully cancelled in the end, leaving Gatz and other students with a day to blow off some steam.

"We went outside and the snow was almost as high as the garage roof, so we spent the day climbing up the telephone pole and then going onto the garage roof and jumping into the snow."