When Laurie and I told neighbours in Oakville in December of 2010 we were moving back to our hometown of Sarnia, they thought we were crazy.
“Better take snowshoes,” they told us. “That place gets more snow than Newfoundland.”
I thought they were the crazy ones.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Sarnia and Bluewaterland is the heart of Ontario’s tropics. Hardly anyone even uses snow tires.”
Then they showed me news stories about what had occurred on Highway 402 a few days earlier, on Dec. 13-14, 2010. I had been having vision issues at the time, and had stopped reading the newspapers.
My first thought was the grandfather and grandmother of all lake streamers had struck the area. Anyone who’s been hit by a streamer on Highway 402 knows visibility can go from clear to zero in seconds.
But what began on Monday, Dec. 13 was a snowstorm of biblical proportions. From Sarnia to Kenwood Road, just east of the county line, a mountain of snow clogged a 30-kilometre stretch of road.
Provincial police snowmobiles counted 200 tractor-trailers and more than 100 cars trapped in deep snow. Lambton County officials declared a state of emergency shortly before midnight and the OPP asked the Canadian military for help.
Heavier guns came out on Tuesday. Snowploughs towing school buses began to rescue hundreds stranded on the highway, many low on warm clothing, food and medications. A pair of Griffon rescue helicopters began airlifting to warming stations. But many travellers spent a cold night huddled in dark and isolated vehicles. In total, helicopters rescued 66 people and performed one medical evacuation.
A Hercules aircraft monitored conditions from above while an army ground battalion was placed on standby with heavy equipment at the ready.
The storm made national and even international headlines as far away as Switzerland.
Slowly, though, things began to improve. By Tuesday night the OPP was able to announce 237 motorists had been rescued from stranded cars and trucks.
Sarnia-Lambton has always been known for its warm generosity of spirit, and the massive blizzard of 2010 demonstrated it once again. Numerous shelters and warming stations were opened and staff stayed throughout the night to help. Other residents on the beleaguered highway opened their homes to stranded and grateful strangers.
It wasn’t exactly Newfoundland on 9-11, but it was a reasonable facsimile.
Today, the chaos wrought by Snowmageddon is just a memory. But wary concerns about travelling Highway 402 come to mind for many Sarnians on those days the sky darkens and the snow begins to fly.