Feb. 3, 1947: The Coldest Day in Canada
My father, Wilfred Blezard, joined Transport Canada in 1946, a year after he arrived home from Europe, after serving six years in the Canadian Army. He willingly accepted postings as a weather technician to various northern stations in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, very grateful for the solitude and quietness of these lonely outposts, in sharp contrast to his devastating experiences overseas.
The first weather station my father was posted to was called Snag Airport, located approximately 30 kilometres east of the Alaska-Yukon border, near Beaver Creek, Yukon. He was one of four young weathermen stationed there during 1946-47. Snag Airport was part of the Northwest Staging Route of emergency landing strips and observation stations established during World War II to facilitate travel from Alaska and the Yukon to Central Canada and the United States.
The weather station operated from 1943 to 1966. It was while my father was there that the temperature plummeted to -81.4°F on February 3, 1947, a record-breaking low for all of North America. He, along with the officer in charge, Gord Toole, had the dubious honour of recording this unbelievable temperature. According to astronomy experts, on that day, Snag was colder than the average surface temperature of Mars. Telegrams of congratulations were received from many countries around the world, with several messages referring to Snag as North America’s new “cold pole.”
Mark Twain once remarked, “Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer, we’d all have frozen to death.”
My father and Gord Toole immediately noticed that the tiny sliding scale inside the glass thermometer column had fallen into the bulb at the end, well below the lowest reading on the thermometer (-80°F). After marking the thermometer sheath using a fine, sharp file (ink does not flow at that temperature), it was sent to a Toronto laboratory where it was re-calibrated at -81.4°F. Three months later, the weather service accepted this as the correct temperature, the lowest official temperature ever recorded in North America. According to my father, the men were excited by the news, saying, “We had to put a little lock on the door to the instrument screen because everyone was rushing out and looking at the thermometers. Even the slightest bit of body heat would cause the alcohol to jump.” Now, all official alcohol thermometers in Canada have markings to -94°F, a thermometer redesign due to the coldest day in Canadian history.
Just how cold is -81.4°F? In order to give you a clear idea of the answer to this question, I have chosen to include several anecdotal, once-in-a- lifetime observations, as recorded by my father and Gord Toole in several interviews given over the years since this historic event. Will Snag remain North America’s “cold pole?” Only time will tell.
Beat the chill with these 10 cool facts about Canada!