There are those who think there is nothing more beautiful than sunshine on snow, and then there are those who think there is nothing more beautiful than sunshine on where snow used to be.
Tall tales, four bottles and a big high …
A storyteller at a place with a rather appropriate motto — “the place where the unusual is the usual” — told the following story after their big high, and bigger low temperature of minus 82.3F in 1947:
“We were staying close to barracks enjoying ourselves, playing cards, pool, writing letters and generally talking, when one of the boys thought it might be a good time to hunt moose, as they wouldn’t be moving very fast in the cold and might be easily spotted by their vapour trails.
“He put on skis, took his rifle and started out. Sure enough he spotted this moose’s vapour trail which was frozen in the air. He climbed up on the vapour trail and started skiing toward the moose with his rifle ready for the kill. He was so engrossed in his hunt, he didn’t know the moose had spotted him coming.
“This moose was pretty smart, and just as our hunter thought he was going to bring back the bacon, the moose stopped breathing, leaving quite a break in the vapour trail, and the would-be hunter fell through the hole and broke his arm. We had quite a job getting him back to barracks.”
The tale came as part of the publicity aftermath of the record setting temperature they experienced.
Their fame was short-lived, though their record stands — the coldest official temperature in North America still belongs to Snag, and Snag still belongs to the Yukon, though it ceases to exist as a vital link in a chain of air navigation aids and emergency airports built during the Second World War.
The gold rush “cold snaps” lasted for weeks, so it’s possible some record lows happened as some of their diaries, and Robert Service suggest.
Though four small bottles sitting on an outside window sill could hardly be called an official thermometer. One bottle held quicksilver, which freezes at 40 below; a second is filled with coal oil, which freezes at 50 below; extract of ginger freezes at 60 below in the third, and the fourth, the Perry Davis pain killer froze at 70 below — some thermometer, probably some record temps too, though we’ll never know.
The RNWMP boss Sam Steele, writing about the winter of 1898/99 in Dawson City adds some credence to the suggestion they had a record or two, describing his winter experience in his book, Forty Years in Canada.
“It was not with darkness alone we had to contend. We had intensely cold weather in the Yukon, always. About 30 below at noon and often 60 or 70 below at night but it did not deter anyone from going about his usual work. During my walks for exercise, I do not remember a morning in which the trail to the creeks was not well crowded with men, and often healthy, active women and girls were met.”
Sam had attitude alright — he took it all in stride, a good idea if you’re around for the long haul.
Today if Canadians didn’t have weather to talk about we’d have trouble opening a conversation. We’d be in the same league as the Canadian woman whose southern farm boundary rested on the 49th parallel.
A boundary surveyor came one day and told her they’d discovered a boundary anomaly.
“Ma’am, our survey reveals the boundary line is too far south. You don’t live in Canada, you actually live in the United States,” he began.
Quick as a wink, she replied, “Well, thank God! I couldn’t stand another one of those Canadian winters.”
A young man in P.E.I., one fine summer day, made a lot more sense. He and his friend were launching a tiny 4.2-metre boat into the ocean from a rickety dock. We’d been watching a magnificent storm coming towards us.
We waved hello, and he volunteered, “Going quahog fishing.”
“Aren’t you concerned about that storm?” I asked.
“No sir! One day when I was younger I was playing in the rain and got all wet. I didn’t melt so haven’t worried about weather ever since.”
A tip of the hat to, dare I say it, winter, and to John Ruskin whose weather philosophy was: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating, there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
If you’re interested in records apparently Antarctica wins the lowest of the low temperature battle with minus 129F or minus 89.4C.