Yesterday morning while I was driving to work the thermometer on my car said -37. That’s minus 37 Celsius, if you were wondering, not that it makes much difference at those temperatures: -40 is -40 whether you speak Canadian or American. Until this cold snap hit, we’d been spoiled with a positively balmy winter, temperatures hovering around freezing for the most part, with some spring-like days. Up until this week, the dangerous winter weather we’d had to deal with involved wind, not frigid temperatures.
As usual, as I was looking at that -37 on the digital readout, my imagination took me back into Alberta’s past, to the early settlers. They didn’t have weathermen warning them that the cold temperatures were coming, and after weeks and weeks of temperate weather the cold snap could have easily snuck up on them. If they weren’t prepared, with food and shelter and warmth for themselves and the animals they relied on, there could be deadly consequences.
In 1881, Senator Matthew Cochrane established a huge ranch on the edge of the Alberta foothills. He trailed in a huge herd of cattle from the south, driving them hard to arrive before the winter, confident that the promised Chinooks would allow his cattle to access the plentiful grass and regain the weight they lost on the trip. Instead, a winter storm hit them before they made it to their range on the banks of the Bow, and they drove the cattle through the drifts to await the Chinook.
The Chinooks didn’t come. As the winter stretched on, without the respite from the snow and freezing cold the southern cattle, weakened from the trip, died by the hundreds. By the time spring came, only a small percentage of the original cattle survived, but the Cochrane Ranche persevered. Today, the Cochrane Ranche is an historic sight, overlooking the town the bears Senator Cochrane’s name.
Today, a cold snap means we put on more layers to go outside and ensure our critters have warm water and extra feed to keep warm. We plug in our vehicles, and hope they start each morning. But one thing hasn`t changed.
We still wait for the Chinook.