MEMORIES OF THE GROUNDHOG DAY STORM BY VANGUARD JOURNALIST ERIC BOUQUE
YARMOUTH – The following may sound absurdly obvious but here goes: Groundhog Day 1976 might have been a pretty good day if not for the wind.
I recall waiting for the school bus that Monday morning, Feb. 2, 40 years ago on a normal-looking day. Overcast. Nothing out of the ordinary.
By the time the storm was kicking into gear two or three hours later, the sky had cleared. I was in my Grade 7 history class at the former Amirault’s Hill school in Yarmouth County. Our teacher was the late Virginia Surette. I think it was our last scheduled class before noon. It would end up being our last for several days, given the lengthy power outage.
What I recall most about that class is that while we all noticed how powerful the wind was getting, hardly anyone seemed to acknowledge it verbally. Now and then, there was a particularly nasty gust. The sound of debris, pebbles and the like being whipped up and blown against the windows prompted us to glance in their direction, but the class went on.
Our day, however, ended at noon. The power was out. I went home with someone from my neighbourhood, a member of a construction crew that happened to be working at the school at the time on a new cafeteria.
It would take awhile to learn about all the damage the storm caused because we were without electricity for several days. There was no television news to watch. CJLS radio was off the air for a while.
Over the years, in conversations I’ve had with my dad about the Groundhog Day storm, we’ve noted that at least there was no snow to worry about that day. As bad as it was, we’re grateful it didn’t go down in history as the Groundhog Day blizzard.
Nor was it particularly cold, not on the day of the storm anyway, although the temperature fell afterwards. We were among the lucky ones in this regard because we had a wood-burning stove. Many people weren’t as fortunate. My recollection is that the Groundhog Day storm and the extended power outage it caused prompted many people to make sure they had an alternate source of heat in case this sort of thing happened again.
Thankfully, it was a once-in-a-generation – many would say once-in-a-lifetime – kind of storm. If I’m not mistaken, it would be more than 30 years before the Yarmouth area experienced a comparable combination of violent wind and extended power outage (the pre-Christmas storm and blackout of 2008.)
We went back to school Friday, Feb. 6. We ended up having an unscheduled three-and-a-half-day break. Back then, I might even have thought of it as a holiday of sorts. It was easy to see it that way when you were a kid living in a house where there was heat despite the blackout.
Your perspective changes as you get older. Looking back on it now – given that others had a tougher go of it than we did and given the damage caused by that mighty wind 40 years ago – it would have been nice if Monday, Feb. 2, 1976 had unfolded the way it began – you know, nothing out of the ordinary.